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Children's Commissioner for England praises our school leaders

First published on: 24th November 2023

Children’s Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza and renowned Christian broadcaster John Bell were among key note speakers who have praised the work of our diocesan school leaders at a special conference.

Organised by the diocesan Education Team, delegates from our 237 schools gathered at the Queen’s Hotel, Leeds for a day of thought-provoking presentations and discussions on the theme of “Flourishing People, Flourishing Places”.

After lively opening worship led by pupils of Stanley St Peter’s VC Primary School, diocesan Director of Education Richard Noake welcomed guests and introduced the Rt Revd Smitha Prasadam, Bishop of Huddersfield as the first speaker.

She recounted the vital roles individual teachers played during her childhood in five different primary schools and two secondary schools in Kolkata, India and in Wales – recalling them each by name.

“Somehow, I feel that they are all here in this room too and I’d like thank you senior school leaders for your wisdom, energy and passion,” Bishop Smitha said.

Drawing on her knowledge of the Hindu faith, she said how children encounter God firstly through their mother, then their father, then their teacher and also by encounters with strangers and how throughout their development, education can provide an interconnection with the divine.

+Smitha said Christian teaching should be robust enough to build spiritual frameworks that will support the 64,000 children in our schools ahead of the real-life challenges they will encounter in adulthood.

John Bell of the Iona Community congratulated the leaders on being in his words: “Guardians of Passion, Guardians of Potential and Guardians of Faith.”

He said that despite the known work pressures and that many teachers feel the depth of their commitment is not often understood, it was crucial that they themselves did not lose their own passion for sharing learning.

Drawing on the story of David and Goliath, he said how the young should not be forced to put on old armour in the hope of winning new battles, but like David, be encouraged to find their own ways and means to defeat the giant troubles of today, such as the climate emergency.

He said that prayer rooted in reality should be conjoined with political thinking and based on the belief that things bigger than ourselves.

With more than 30 years of high level teaching experience, Dame Rachel de Souza became the Children’s Commissioner in 2021 and has completed the largest ever survey of children “The Big Ask” with over half a million responses.

Among her many concerns and priorities, she highlighted the impact of Covid in creating a continuing drop in school attendance and the ensuing mental health and wellbeing issues which teachers have to cope with, meaning schools provide, in her words: “the fourth emergency service.”

She said how the goal of enabling children to flourish also meant extra resources were needed for dispossessed children who arrive in this country, often without family support.

Citing her own Catholic upbringing, Dame Rachel said how the role of family was vital in enabling children to flourish, while pointing out that 44 percent of those born in 2000 now have separated parents.

She stressed her commitment to championing children and encouraged senior leaders with specific serious problems regarding pupil welfare to contact her and her team directly.

“I want to make England the best place in the world in which to grow up,” she said. Headteacher Jackie Prime of St Francis Xavier School, Richmond was at the conference with colleague Clare Masterman (pictured left) and said: “This was the first time I’ve attended and it was both very worthwhile and enjoyable. Great for everyone to get together.”

Other speakers included Maggie Farrar, CBE who has worked in a number of senior leadership positions in schools and local authorities and the motivational speaker and world record-holding adventurer, Jamie McDonald.

Also pictured are Dame Rachel, John Bell, Bishop Smitha and Richard Noake with the Rt Revd Tony Robinson, Bishop of Wakefield.

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