The first step with any school outreach plan is deciding which school in your parish you plan to start supporting! If there’s more than one school in your local parish, it’s likely that you’d overstretch your resources trying to support multiple schools. In the initial stages of such a project, you may not have that many resources, whether that’s volunteers or material resources, so you will need to carefully consider the best ways to utilise them.
Once you’ve decided on a school, it’s good practice to find out what other churches or Christian organisations are doing in your local area. It may turn out that another church has already made connections with your chosen school, and you might want to consider partnering with them. In cases where another church or organisation is working with the school, they can include you in their ongoing work, allowing you to build a relationship with the school. Then in time, you may find other ways to support the school, which complements other ongoing work.
If the school isn’t working with another Christian group, it’s important to find out if attempts have been made in the past, especially if these visits didn’t go well. You would then need to reassure the school that you won’t make the same mistakes, and that you will be led by what the school needs.
What Can Your Church Offer Local Schools?
When approaching a school to offer support, it’s important not to go in with too rigid an agenda. Although you may have ideas of what your church can offer, not all of these will necessarily align with the needs of the school. Alternatively, another organisation might already be providing the support you think the school needs.
Once you’ve built a rapport with the staff and students, you can really get to grips with the issues the school needs assistance with. In most cases, these issues will link to the school’s requirement to promote Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural development (SMSC). The promotion of SMSC is measured by Ofsted, through things like pupils being able to be reflective about their own beliefs, religious or otherwise, that inform their perspective on life. SMSC is usually spread across a range of school activities. These may include assemblies, various clubs, and offering pupils the use of prayer spaces. And it is in these three areas that your church can most easily support the school.
Schools are required to provide acts of worship, the majority of which are Christian in nature. If you or someone from your church is asked to deliver an assembly, whether this is on a theme the school has provided or if the theme is up to the individual, it’s essential to consider the goal of the assembly. Are you primarily trying to present a positive image of Christianity? Is your main aim to promote SMCS development? Without goals, when you follow up on the assembly, you won’t know how much of an impact you’ve made.
Before your first assembly, it may be sensible to watch other assemblies, to get a better idea of the tone needed and what values are being promoted. An explicitly evangelistic message may not be appreciated, but telling pupils about the fruits of the Spirit, such as love, joy, and peace, is may be more appropriate. You should also share a copy of your presentation in advance with whoever you’re liaising with at the school and may want to chat with staff members about it too.
While it might sound obvious, it’s also essential to find out all the practical details of the assembly before you start, such as the age group of the pupils, what time the assembly starts, and how long it lasts. If you get any of these fundamentals wrong, you may not be invited back to speak! Although power-points and music can be engaging, make sure you have non-tech options in reserve, as school IT systems can be unreliable.
After giving the assembly, don’t forget to ask for feedback. That way, when you return for your next visit, you can improve on the areas that didn’t go as well, and focus on the areas that resonated with the pupils.
Lunchtime and After School Clubs
Along with people to present assemblies, a school often needs volunteers to run clubs. Ask the school you’ve reached out to what sort of clubs they’d like to run if they had more resources, and work with them to set these up. Perhaps the school would like to start a breakfast club, or an afterschool club to allow parents to pick up their children after they finish work. This could be centred around homework, rather than a particular interest, to allow all children to take part.
Another possible club is Christian Union. These groups are often led by the pupils themselves, but students may need the support or guidance of teachers or a church to start a Christian Union. Reach out to any young people who are interested, and set up a meeting with the member of staff responsible for pastoral care in the school. You can then discuss what the Christian Union will do, where it will meet, and how it will be publicised.
Regardless of whether students have their own faith, a prayer space needs to be a safe environment for pupils to consider the bigger issues – somewhere young people can go to explore faith, spirituality and life questions. And although a prayer space may start off from a Christian perspective, it needs to also allow students to explore prayer and self-reflection in any way they feel comfortable.
There are a number of activities you can carry out in a prayer space, which encourage students to think more about the power of prayer, and how it can be used as a way of processing our life experiences. The Prayer Spaces in Schools website offers a host of activities and ideas to help you get started.