- Together Apart
- Next Gen
“Research shows that only 30% of children raised in Christian families continue to go on with their faith into their twenties. But for children educated in independent Christian schools, that figure rises to 70%.”
So began my conversation with Jonathan Swain, Head Teacher of Emmanuel School in Walsall, an independent Christian school serving pupils aged 3-16 from all over the Midlands.
Started nearly 25 years ago as a partnership between Bath Street Church, Walsall and Pelsall Evangelical Church, the school has grown and diversified since its early days of serving mainly children from the founding churches. Renting space in Walsall’s African Caribbean Community Association, the school now serves churches from various denominations all over the Midlands. The student make-up is incredibly diverse, representing over 40 churches and a number of ethnic backgrounds including African, Eastern European, Asian and white minority groups.
The school teaches a broad curriculum from Nursery through to Year 11, underpinned by Christian values. The ultimate vision of the school is to see pupils who ‘love the Lord God with all their heart, soul and strength, love others, are eager to learn and fulfil their academic potential, recognise their abilities, gifts and passions and are encouraged to develop them fully and go out and make a positive difference in the communities in which they live, work, worship and play.’
That’s quite a tall order!
As a writer, I’ve visited other independent Christian schools in the past and the same question continues to emerge from my mind whenever I consider the impact of being taught in such an overtly Christian environment: Don’t Christian schools just create an unrealistic bubble that does nothing to prepare young people for the challenges, realities and diversity of opinion and beliefs in the real world?
Jonathan had clearly answered this question many times before, evidenced in his unfazed response.
“We want our students to know the truths of the Bible but we don’t avoid teaching the ‘big issues’ that young people will face in the real world. We want to prepare them for real life with God at the centre of all they do. We’re not afraid of engaging in complex issues. We teach the PSHE curriculum and in Key Stage 4, we explore protected characteristics, teaching and encouraging students to treat all people with respect and dignity, even those different to themselves. But everything we teach is taught with the Christian perspective underpinning it.”
The beauty of independent Christian schools like Emmanuel is the freedom staff have to share their own faith with students, in turn helping them to develop their own personal relationship with Jesus. Staff are free to pray with students on a daily basis and all students take part in daily corporate prayer and worship together. Such an open environment also means that when a student has a ‘crisis’ of faith or struggles with what Christians believe, they can journey those struggles with staff members who are able to empathise and promote open discussion to help them.
Throughout the school building, colourful display boards remind the students of how much they are loved by God, of the fruits of the spirit growing within them and of the promises of God for them found in scripture. Seeds like these never return void, as Jonathan explained.
“We once had a student leave us in Year 9 to attend a different school. He ended up very much ‘off the rails’, making poor choices and mixing with people who continued the lead him astray. I met him again years later and he told me that when he got to his darkest day, he remembered what was said about him at Emmanuel School and it helped him come back to God.”
This story is one of the reasons that Emmanuel School offers education for students up until the age of 16.
“Many Christian schools stop offering education to children beyond the age of 11,” explained Jonathan. “But that’s the age when a young person’s friends start to have more influence over them, often causing faith wobbles. We’re passionate about offering education right up until the age of 16 in order to give students a deeply rooted understanding of who they are in God and a firm foundation on which to attend secular colleges and universities.”
Teaching at an independent Christian school is a true calling. Staff are paid significantly less than they would be in mainstream schools and therefore taking on the role is a financial sacrifice for anyone willing to do it.
The pay-off, however, appears to be great. Not only do teachers at Emmanuel School share their academic expertise with students, they also get to impart the grace and truth of Jesus to students on a daily basis in very real ways, as Jonathan explained.
“Our staff are able to tell children every single day how much Jesus loves them. Recently, we had a young Muslim child attend our Nursery. During the school holidays, he visited Pakistan with his family and when he returned, his parents told us how the child had walked around the village they stayed in telling everyone that Jesus loved them!”
The financial constraints on independent schools mean that there is rarely enough money to do all they want to do. Therefore, partnering with passionate Christians is key to moving the school forwards.
“We have a vision for the next generation in the area and we need the skills and support of the local Christian community to sustain it,” explained Jonathan. “The kingdom of God is about advancing, not protecting our patch. Gone are the days when Christian schooling was about sheltering young people from the realities of the world. We want to expose our students to inspirational Christians who are making a difference in this world and would love to partner with people can help us achieve this dream.”
Jonathan’s plea was a sincere one. Here before me sat a man who has sown his entire life into educating the next generation and imparting into them the truth that they are called by God for a purpose. It’s impossible not to feel challenged and encouraged by such passion and it’s an honour to be able to share about the work of Emmanuel School and promote the needs that perhaps some of our readers could meet.
These and many more are the needs of this small school with a huge vision. If you can help, please contact Jonathan Swain by emailing email@example.com.