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When my College was inspected by Ofsted and the ALI last summer and awarded a string of grades 1s in all Inspection areas, there was a lot to be proud of. However, there were 4 statements of which I was most proud:

“There is a strong culture of promoting achievement and the development of rounded young people”; “Outstanding social and educational inclusion”; “Students enjoy their learning and show courtesy and respect for one another”; “Social diversity is widely explored and celebrated through the curriculum”.

So, where do colleges fit into this recent debate about “faith assessment” and the 14-19 Diplomas?

“Faith” (and its many definitions) is only part of a much broader vision and objective for colleges. It embraces what FE colleges do so well ““ a culture of respect, tolerance and celebration of differences. It is not just about religion or “faith”. It is more fundamentally about something that can be less well defined ““ perhaps as “spirituality”. This is not “dogma” or “faith” nor anything as narrow as this.

Colleges also are very mindful of the powerful influence they can have, in their individual communities, as a promoter of social inclusion, social awareness, social justice, cultural understanding and valuing the ideas of others.

So, why should the 14-19 Diplomas have “assessment of faith”? They shouldn”t. The new Diplomas, as with any other part of our accredited or non-accredited curriculum, should embrace “faith” and other issues as part of the embedded curriculum.

Poetry, Music, Art and a whole range of other areas of the curriculum enable students to understand and become aware of the complexities of the human race ““ including “faith”.

What we should and are trying to do is awaken the “spirit” of each individual student, open their minds and warm their hearts. We need our young people to be creative, imaginative, reflective, tolerant and understanding so that our society can be more peaceful and also ensure that their education is holistic and that our students are part of a global community ““ social and economic.

There are multiple ways of doing this.

Yes, my College has a multi-faith Chaplaincy. We have also invested capital sums recently into building a “Quiet Garden” for reflection and contemplation. It is not “faith” based, but it does provide a facility for those who wish to pray, to think or reflect. When one of our 18 year old students was killed last year in a car crash, these facilities and support services were crucial to help them understand “loss”, “vulnerability” and also provide collective and community support ““ to help them “move on”.

The issues about 14-19 Diplomas and “faith assessment” and so-called “faith advisers” demonstrate a very narrow and knee-jerked reaction to some of the issues our society is facing. If we could all take a more holistic approach (in which “faith” would be part), we can and will make a real difference.

Colleges have a particularly good track record on this. Hopefully, Bill Rammell will see this in a wider sense.

Jane Machell, Principal, Alton College.

Tribal Group Response

A spokesperson from the Tribal Group expressed interest in the proposals, citing Further Education Minister Bill Rammell’s alleged suggestion that each college should have a minister, despite Mr Rammell confirming for FE News to the contrary.

They said: “The recognition of the importance of faiths and cultures within the broad remit of the new specialized diplomas will be welcomed by groups like NEAFE (the National Ecumenical Agency for Further Education) and FiFEF (Faiths in Further Education Forum)”.

“These groups, among others, have argued successfully that faith is too important a part of people’s lives for it not to be recognised, celebrated and cultivated”.

Alongside the report’s findings that staff at FE institutions paid heed to the logistical interpretation of faith and beliefs, the Group noted: “Anyone with an interest in the success of post-compulsory education and training should also welcome this slow realisation. It is not about prayer rooms and closing the college for Eid, in the same way that disability rights is not about ramps. It is so much more than that”.

“Whether through formalised religion or, more likely, an ill-defined sense of wonder at the world and an appreciation of moral issues, surveys and studies have shown that students acknowledge beliefs and values, in themselves and in others. Therefore it stands to reason that student support should include some of this same dimension if it is to be at all effective”.

“Indeed, innovative and successful colleges already do so. No less a person than Bill Rammell has gone on record on a number of occasions extolling the desirability of every college having a minister, of the spiritual rather than the political kind”.

“Due regard to a spiritual side in the lives of students has been found to reduce cultural tensions, raise morale, improve attendance and have a direct impact on performance. That has to be good news for everyone”.

Vijay Pattni.

What do you think about proposals for faith assessment in the Diplomas?

Email the Editor: [email protected].

Related FE News articles:

Faith Tests “Perfectly Legitimate” ““ 08/02/07

“Successful Colleges Should Help Failing Students” ““ 06/02/07

Faith “Important” To Students ““ 30/01/07

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