Thursday 20 March 2008

All you need is Hope

Springing eternal for me yesterday, with Leslie Stephen, Diocesan Director of Education. We visited Liverpool Hope University to follow up our Indian Educational Visit last year. Thanks to Professor Bill Chambers, who looked after us fantastically.

LHU is unique among UK Universities — Deep Christian roots, fully Catholic, fully Anglican, fully engaged — a real community of faith and mutual learning. The name came from the street connecting Anglican and RC Cathedrals, and the famous double act between Anglican bishop David Sheppard and Catholic Archbishop Derek Worlock is part of its DNA, which lives today between Archbishop Patrick Kelly and Bishop James Jones. Liverpool is a world class city, with a history of deep sectarianism transfigured by realism, warmth, flair and passion for life.

If the Virgin brand is about breaking new ground, Liverpool Hope is about fully relational community education springing from lived faith. It spills over from academic activity into Hope One World — a programme for actively connecting with the real world. Most UK university education conforms to a dreary seventies norm, where people basically behave like the cast of a Malcolm Bradbury novel. Christians have to keep their heads down, justify themselves, and pretend their faith is a hobby rather than a way of life, along with anyone else who calls into question its vapid, arrogant, unreflective secularism.

LHU proves there is an alternative. This is not about reversing the enlightenment — quite the reverse. World class academic work goes on here. LHU is just more connected, adventurous and spiritually aware. The difference shows up in the ways people relate to each other. One phrase stuck with me from our various meetings with Vice-Chancellor and heads of department — “Work at the relationships and miracles will happen.”

This way of living and learning relies on inspired leadership from Professor Gerald Pillay (Can he really be the UK’s only black ethnic minority Vice-Chancellor?) and colleagues. In Apartheid South Africa, he experienced the “Liberation first, education later” idea, but came to realise that the education was liberation. His passion is generous, faith based, transformative education.

Liverpool Hope is a strongly alligned community. Again and again, from the ways academic and support staff interacted to the ways they buzzed around our concerns, Leslie and I felt we were among gifted colleagues who basically liked and respected each other, and were willing to work hard together for something that mattered. Things people often idealise about vaguely — social inclusion, ethos, excellence — are worked through here with a rigorous practical commitment.

We came away with plans for five projects about staff development in academies, headship recruitment and support, backing trainee teachers for whom teaching is a vocation, our India link accessing the Hope One World process, and resources for our heads and governors in focussing and fostering ethos and values.

Again and again, Leslie and I felt this is a place they actually understand and live what we were talking about. We believe there’s big benefit in this partnership for our 280 schools and, most precious of all, our 48,000 school students. We’ve lit the blue touchpaper, anyway...

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