Layers of meaning

Geraldine Brennan on a resource designed to spark discussion

"When I hear the Buddhist scriptures spoken I feel like I'm hearing the truth. It makes sense, it sounds fluent, it soothes my mind." Tashi is nine years old, the youngest of 15 children happy to tell the world about their beliefs in a new book published for Liverpool's Year of Faith. A free copy of Me and My Faith has gone to 190 schools in the city but it's available nationwide, intended as a primer for non-specialist RE primary teachers, a springboard for classroom discussion and a class library resource for further pupil research.

Each faith covered in the RE curriculum is introduced in the words of 15 young interviewees from Merseyside, aged between nine and 14. They talked to Marian Frayne, Liverpool LEA's RE effectiveness officer, about their beliefs, ceremonies and places of worship and the role of prayer in their lives.

Marian found most of her subjects through contacts on Liverpool's Standing Advisory Committee on Religious Education, and approached them through their parents. For some, faith is part of family life (Tashi worships at home with his father, a Tibetan Buddhist, and knows no other Buddhist children); others such as Church of England choirboy Michael, photographed in his surplice beaming with pride, have chosen their own path.

"The young people I have met have all been very insightful, and very brave to go public about their faith in this way," says Marian. "When I speak at assemblies I ask students: 'If you'd been asked to be in this book, would you have been able to speak out like this to an unknown audience?'" One of the suggestions for further discussion in the teachers' guide is: "Think about reasons for showing more respect and understanding towards people who choose to attend church."

With the subtitle "Learning from children in Liverpool", the book's emphasis is on what others might recognise, explore or question in the glimpses of how the interviewees' faith affects their lives. The teachers'

guide suggests looking for deeper layers of meaning in statements such as:

"I believe God looks at your heart".

The excellent photography by Stephen Dodd is also intended to yield further talking points, and advanced skills teacher Dot Bygroves at Gilmour primary in south Liverpool makes the most of local references when her Year 3 class becomes one of the first groups to try out the book, which is mainly aimed at key stages 2 and 3. "Do you know all these children live in Liverpool?"

she says, showing the 15 subjects united on the front cover in the large-format (A3) edition. "Do they look as if they don't like one another? They're listening to what each other has to say. That's what we want to do in our school." Dot has taught secondary RE at Liverpool Bluecoat boys school, but has spent the past 17 years at Gilmour, a mostly Christian school in a mostly white neighbourhood with Muslim and Jewish communities within reach.

She points out local landmarks to her class. "There's All Hallows; if you go to Tesco you'll see that. There's Bridge Chapel; we're going there for our carol concert. Did you know that there are people in Liverpool who are Hindus? There's the Hindu cultural centre, who knows where that is?"

In the group work session, the Gilmour pupils match names to faiths to festivals: friends Kate and Abbie as altar servers in the Roman Catholic church, where they create an Easter garden; Tashi and his father in their living room with their prayer wheel and ceremonial robes. It's all happening in Liverpool, but the message is for children everywhere.

* Me and My Faith: Learning from children in Liverpool by Marian Frayne with photos by Stephen Dodd is published by Cities500. pound;5; A3 book pound;10; teacher's guide pound;1.

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