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Hailing from all directions

Today your creed doesn't matter as long as you're a believer

If you've never worked in a faith school, you could be forgiven for thinking that you have to practise its religion - or at least be a believer. But Christian schools are keen to welcome teachers of other faiths.

Stephen Tierney, head of St Mary's, a Catholic 11-18 maths and computing college in Blackpool, actively encourages teachers from other religions to apply for jobs at the school. In the information pack sent out to to all applicants, he encloses a letter stating that teachers of all faiths are welcome.

More than half the teachers at St Mary's are Roman Catholic.

"We aim to help students to develop a value system that will provide them with deep roots in the stormy waters of life," he says. "The college is also catholic with a small 'c' - it is both universal and inclusive and wants to encourage people to come to work and contribute to the college's continuing mission."

But he does advise teachers to think carefully before applying for a post at a faith school.

"Staff need to think about whether the distinctive ethos is something that appeals to them and they will be able to support."

Teachers interviewed at St Mary's are asked how they could contribute to the college's Christian ethos.

"All I'm looking for is a sense of priorities," says Mr Tierney. "What does the candidate feel to be most important - their subject or the students? The key issues of developing positive and enriching relationships with students and seeing the whole person are at the heart of Catholic education, and I'd be looking for interviewees to talk about the work they have done as a form tutor and the contribution they could make to students'

spiritual growth.

"Curriculum-wise, I'd be looking for applicants to talk about how their subject can be used to explore spiritual, moral or social issues."

Pauline Watkins is director of key stage 4 at Bennett Memorial Diocesan, an 11-18 mixed Church of England school in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. She is a Catholic, but has spent much of her teaching career in secular or non-Catholic schools. Her experience at Bennett has been her most rewarding.

"I have never felt uncomfortable or excluded by my Catholicism in this school for the simple reason that it is welcoming and open in its approach to all spiritual experiences," she says.

At Bennett Memorial, Eucharist and other services are led by members of staff who are not Anglican. Muslim teachers have worked at the school in recent years and there is a prayer room that can be used by Muslim students.

Working at a Church of England school has helped Ms Watkins broaden her understanding of spiritual issues.

"What intrigues me is the range of faiths in the Church of England," she says. "As a pastoral leader, I've attended several confirmation services which, apart from the core rituals, were all very different.

"I'm currently arranging a visit for Year 8 students to a Sikh temple as their experience of multi-cultural life is limited."

John Smartt is also a Roman Catholic and has been head at King David high school, a Jewish secondary in Liverpool, for more than 10 years.

"Working at a Jewish school has enriched my understanding of my own and other faiths," he says. "As a teacher from another faith, you recognise the importance of faith to a child."

Around 20 per cent of teaching staff at the school are Jewish, but Mr Smartt is keen to point out his willingness to recruit teachers from a variety of faiths.

"I look for teachers who feel they can support the ethos of the school," he says. "Non-Jewish teachers can find it strange at first - there are Jewish festivals and principles to observe and kosher rules in the dining room, for example.

"I sometimes find non-Jewish teachers can be more supportive as they are concerned about understanding the faith. It's great for children to gain knowledge and experience of a variety of faiths - that is crucial in helping them to take responsibility in their own lives."

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