As a millennium project, its media profile may be decidedly low, but JC2000 is no private party, as Jack Priestley explains
JC2000 is the unhyped, undomed millennium project that has crept up on us unawares. Well, not quite. So far 34 per cent of England's secondary schools and 31 per cent of primaries have signed up since last October's launch, but without the razzmatazz centred on Greenwich.
So anxious are its organisers to stress that the project, consisting of events and supporting materials, is an educational, not an evangelical one, that not until the last page of the glossy introductory folded leaflet do readers find that "JC = Jesus Christ".
The brainchild of Andrew Rowe MP, the project now has a national office in London, an arts office and a dozen regional managers. The leaflet is endorsed by Education Secretary David Blunkett, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and, most importantly, by senior representatives of the six principal religions in the United Kingdom. Preliminary workshops, which go on until July, are already heavily subscribed.
The supporting curriculum materials published by Collins are, says John Keast, the QCA's chief subject officer for RE, "a goldmine of ideas and suggestions". The content of the two books is shared but each consists of 24 lesson plans for the relevant key stages centred on four creative modes of expression - art, dance, drama and music. These sections also include background material that will be particularly useful to non-specialist primary teachers.
The religious sensitivity is high. There is no prescription on how passages might be interpreted and teachers are free to choose whatever stories they like.
The material on disc and in the books concentrates on various interpretations of just three narratives - the prologue to John's Gospel, the feeding of the 5,000 and the road to Emmaus. All seem highly appropriate for the media suggested, where words fail and the arts are necessary to express the inexpressible.
So Adam Bird's music for John's prologue takes the theme of light conflicting with darkness, while dance can help capture in motion the abstraction of "Word made flesh".
Similarly, the artist can paint a literal picture of miraculous feeding or, in the light of Escher, dwell on impossible images, while drama can do much with the theme of journeying and recognition.
The books finish with production tips for schools that want to participate in the JC2000 regional and national festivals from November onwards. Altogether, this is an exciting venture, very much in the hands and under the control of individual teachers and schools.
JC2000 The Millennium Arts Festival for Schools, 45 Hazlitt Mews, London W14 0JZ. Tel: 0171 371 3716. Fax: 0171 371 3790. Schools information line: 0870 550 1152 * Collins's primary and secondary resource books plus a compact disc of music composed by Adam Bird are free to schools that have registered for the project at pound;10 per school * Jack Priestley is a research fellow in the University of Exeter School of Education