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Religious education plays a crucial role in promoting social justice and equity within schools. In this article, we will explore how Park Community School in Hampshire, specifically, has embraced the Locally Agreed Syllabus Living Difference IV (2021) to embed social justice principles into their teaching and curriculum.
Park Community School, located in Havant, Hampshire, faces unique challenges due to the high percentage of disadvantaged students in their student body. With 58% of students classified as disadvantaged and 49% receiving Free School Meals, the school is acutely aware of the unequal distribution of material and social goods within their community. Additionally, the school recognizes the impact of competing value systems on disadvantaged groups, as highlighted in research by Garth Stahl.
Stahl’s research emphasizes that attending school for many working-class boys is entering a different social space dominated by middle-class values, leading to disaffection and resistance. This experience of exclusion must be addressed if social justice is to be achieved.
Park Community School’s Journey Towards Social Justice
Park Community School sees itself as an active partner within the community, aiming to challenge social injustice and promote social justice in all its forms. The school recognizes that education is not solely about acquiring knowledge but also about discerning values and empowering young people to become active participants in their own lives.
To illustrate how this journey looks in practice, let’s explore some examples of initiatives undertaken by Park Community School:
Tackling Food Poverty: In 2017, the school established a community group called ‘MUNCH’ to address food poverty in the area. MUNCH initially provided free hot meals during school holidays to students and their families. The project aimed to create a sustainable local enterprise by partnering with local businesses to procure excess food and establish a food shop and café. Over time, MUNCH has expanded its services, now providing meals to the community every Thursday evening and monthly Sunday lunches during term time. This initiative not only tackles food poverty but also provides volunteering and employment opportunities for young people, addressing social isolation.
Connect4Summer: Another community-based activity organized by Park Community School is ‘Connect4Summer.’ This program offers holiday activities, childcare, and meals in collaboration with other Hampshire schools. The success of initiatives like MUNCH and Connect4Summer led to national recognition, with Susan Parish, the Business and Communities Manager at Park Community School, receiving an MBE in the 2022 New Year’s Honours for her work in developing these projects.
Expanding Opportunities: Park Community School goes beyond traditional academic measures to offer further opportunities to students. These include training in construction and horticulture, work experience in ‘Park Design and Print Services,’ the school’s small holding, and off-site tea rooms. These opportunities may not contribute to school progress measures but align with the school’s commitment to social justice.
The Role of Religious Education in Promoting Social Justice
Religious education is an integral part of Park Community School’s journey towards social justice. The school has transitioned from limited provision of religious education in Key Stage Four to all students being entered for the full course GCSE. This shift was motivated by a belief that religious education can and should be transformative in young people’s lives.
Religious education at Park Community School adopts the pedagogical approach of Living Difference, emphasizing the importance of engaging young people in their concrete contexts and empowering them as active agents of their own lives. The aim is to move beyond imparting pre-determined knowledge and instead create space for young people to explore and discern what is valuable to them.
The school also embraces additional strategies outlined in Living Difference IV (2021), such as ‘Pondering Time’ and the use of Philosophy for Children (P4C) as a classroom pedagogy. Pondering Time allows up to 20% of learning time to be self-directed, recognizing the significance of attentiveness, curiosity, and agency in co-constructing learning. P4C fosters critical, creative, collaborative, and caring thinking, giving young people a platform to express their thoughts and opinions.
Park Community School’s journey towards social justice in religious education demonstrates the power of embracing a pedagogical approach that prioritizes the experiences and realities of young people. By creating space for them to speak, think, and act as agents of change, the school empowers students to discern their values and actively participate in their education and community.
While the examples provided are not a guaranteed pathway to social justice, they serve as a starting point for schools to consider how they can integrate social justice principles into their own contexts. By taking religious education seriously as a transformative force, schools can contribute to a more equitable and just future for the young people they serve.
In conclusion, religious education plays a vital role in promoting social justice within schools. By adopting an inclusive pedagogical approach, schools can empower young people to become active agents of change, discern their values, and contribute to a more equitable society.