CPD takes on deeper meaning during day trip for 'healers of fear'

25th September 2009 at 01:00
Compulsory training included liturgies, prayer - and Neil Diamond-inspired dance session

For most teachers, a day of inset training might include brushing up on their subject knowledge or learning new ways to control rowdy pupils.

But for more than 200 Catholic primary school teachers it meant something rather more spiritual - a pilgrimage to a cathedral and a pledge to be "protectors of wonder" and "healers of fear".

The staff from Catholic schools in Wakefield attended Ripon Cathedral for a day of continuing professional development, focusing on their schools' spiritual mission.

Activities included liturgies and even a dance session to a version of "Pretty Amazing Grace" by Neil Diamond.

The training day was compulsory for teachers from nine primaries in the Wakefield Partnership of Catholic Schools. Support staff were also invited to attend.

Bernard Martin, headteacher at English Martyrs Catholic Primary School, said: "Part of what Catholic schools are expected to do is renew their mission.

"We wanted to remember what we are seeking to achieve and it seemed right to have a spiritual element.

"Everybody that went thoroughly enjoyed it, felt moved by it and inspired by it to come back and do their jobs."

Mr Martin said that holding the day at Ripon Cathedral, which is Church of England, reminded teachers of a "shared Christian heritage".

"The best part of the day was a liturgy together. There was also a hugely moving liturgy dance."

The spoken prayer that staff recited included the words: "We commit ourselves to be protectors of wonder; in a cynical world keeping fresh the joys of childhood and the excitement of learning.

"To be healers of fear; providing our children with confidence to find light in dark places."

It adds that staff should be "co-creators with God - nurturing human wholeness".

The partnership of schools, which has been working together for the past six years, holds joint training sessions each year, but they are not always about spiritual matters.

The event was run by Frank McDermott, a former director of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Hallam who now runs Anam Cara, an organisation that puts on "days of reflection" for schools.

Mr McDermott, who is also a former Catholic school headteacher, said the day included prayer and was designed to be inclusive of all staff.

"It was a chance to reflect on the deeper meaning of education," he said. "We were emphasising that real education nurtures human wholeness. It was an inclusive setting, although unapologetically Catholic."

Mr McDermott said there was growing interest from all schools, including non-faith schools, in giving teachers more opportunities to reflect on what they were doing.

He has already run five sessions this term, including leading staff from one Catholic primary from Stockton on a walk in the North York Moors national park, which ended with prayers at a chapel.

But Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, raised concerns that CPD money was being used in this way.

"These funds have been provided to help teachers become better at their jobs, not instruct them how to introduce even more religion into their classes," he said.

"Religion is now taking up a disproportionate share of time and resources in these schools. Its influence is becoming unhealthy and unbalanced."

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