Innovative Practice - Keep the faith

18th November 2011 at 00:00
Using film-making and video-conferencing with schools in other countries to promote religious tolerance

The background

Hayley Nunley, RE and psychology teacher at Hollins Technology College in Accrington, was keen to look at ways to advance the school's work in promoting inter-faith understanding. She felt the school, which has pupils from Christian, atheist and Islamic backgrounds, had "developed good relationships between the faiths over the past few years". But she was interested in developing them further, so became involved with the Tony Blair Faith Foundation's Face to Faith scheme. "The foundation's aim to facilitate cross-cultural understanding was something that I feel was needed in our community and school," she says.

The project

Among the projects that the school has encouraged pupils to take part in is Faith Shorts, in which students around the world make and submit films about how their faith inspires them.

As well as the UK, participating countries include Australia, Canada, India, Lebanon, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and the US.

One of the 15 internationally shortlisted films was made by a trio of pupils at Hollins, called Muhammad In Accrington ... Inspiring Me. The three students responsible - Sanna Azam, Farazia Shah and Amna Aslam from Years 7-10 - say they wanted to "challenge negative stereotypes about Islam". "Working on the project changed our life socially and affected how we act every day," they say.

The school has also worked with the Tony Blair Faith Foundation to establish international video conferences with schools in India and one-off video conferences on topics such as human rights and women's rights.

"It not only helps them to develop their confidence, but also helps them to understand the similarities and differences between them and the pupils they talk to," Ms Nunley says. "They get to discuss their interests, hobbies and lives and also discuss really important issues such as how we respond to terrorism and the importance of peace in society."

Charlotte Bolton, a Year 9 pupil, says the video-conferencing "was great as it gave us the chance to understand the different interests of the pupils in India and also the different culture".

Tips from the scheme

- Foundations already exist that can help you if you want to link up online with other schools.

- Organisations such as the Tony Blair Faith Foundation offer free one-to-one support, teaching materials and training.

Evidence that it works?

Face to Faith has been evaluated by a team of researchers from the Warwick Religions and Education Research Unit led by Robert Jackson, professor of education at Warwick University.

"The initial study of the Face to Faith project shows that it is impartial in the handling of different religions, both in the resources and video conferences. There is no theological bias, nor is there a wider implicit theological frame," Professor Jackson says.

"The project has opened up issues of the ways religions are represented by encouraging pupils to go beyond assuming that what one student says about their religious practice or belief represents all of that religion."

Ms Nunley says the projects have "not only improved our work within the curriculum but have encouraged our pupils to become global citizens, more aware of themselves, their local community and the global community".

"Pupils are more engaged in lessons and in their school work because of the exciting innovative projects offered," she adds.

The project

Name: Tony Blair Faith Foundation's Face to Faith scheme

Started: Announced in 2009, and rolled out globally in 2010. It works with more than 400 schools in 17 countries.

Approach: Film-making and video-conferencing to develop pupils' understanding of other faiths

The school

Name: Hollins Technology College

Location: Accrington, Lancashire

Number of pupils: 751

Age range: 11-16

Intake: Co-educational, with higher than national average numbers of pupils on free school meals, who speak English as an additional language and have special educational needs

Ofsted overall rating: Good.

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