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Local Inter Faith Organisations and Schools

Increasingly, schools and academies want to interact with different faith communities in their locality.

Involvement in the classroom and in school life more generally by local faith and inter groups can be a powerful and engaging way to enable pupils to see how faith communities can work together for the common good, drawing on their different faith traditions whilst recognising significant differences in belief and practice.

Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education, in England and Wales, play an important role in this – particularly in relation to the Locally Agreed Syllabus. In a complementary way, local inter faith groups make a significant contribution to supporting schools to understand better the place of faith and faith communities in the UK today.

Some of the approaches that local inter faith groups are:

  • working with local SACREs and Agreed Syllabus Conferences to enhance pupils’ learning on RE and collective worship
  • providing visits to schools to support individual religious education lessons and acts of collective worship
  • providing speakers for conferences for 6th Formers
  • taking part in day or half day events for clusters of schools or in a school for some or all pupils
  • providing bespoke interventions for pupils or students following courses where learning about different faiths is especially relevant, such as health and social care courses
  • supporting the development of school inter faith groups or clubs or working with a school on an inter faith event – for example for Inter Faith Week

 Harrow Interfaith

Harrow Interfaith was established in 1983, originally called Harrow Inter Faith Council, and operates in one of the most diverse boroughs in the UK. Key to its schools work from the outset has been forging connections with the local Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE) and there are members of Harrow Interfaith that are also members of Harrow SACRE.

One of the first events they did together involved children from a local school going into their faith communities to learn about them. Since then Harrow Interfaith has organised a number of events including conferences for Year 10 and 11 pupils led by 6th Formers in the Borough as well as a programme of debates in schools. These events are supported by SACRE.

Members go into schools regularly and act as advisors, helping them to implement the locally agreed syllabus and providing clarification on matters relating to their own faith traditions as well as helping with ideas for lessons.. Initially people joined Harrow Interfaith through their place of worship, for example through their synagogue or their mosque. This pattern of membership has evolved to include schools so that teachers and governors can be involved in its work.

Cornwall Faiths Forum

Cornwall Faiths Forum was founded in 2008 to respond to increasing diversity within Cornwall. Early on it set up a project called Dor Kemmyn (Common Ground in Cornish). The main idea for Dor Kemmyn was to set up an inter faith centre for Cornwall and to provide a space where religious communities without their own buildings could meet. From the beginning it was realised that if the project was to have wider impact it needed an education programme. Working with Cornwall SACRE and the local RE Adviser it set up a number of learning days for primary schools in places that were accessible to rural schools in particular. An important feature of these days was meeting all the presenters at the beginning of the event, and where possible the end too. The purpose of this was to ensure that pupils saw people from different faith traditions working together.

This project then moved to working with secondary schools and then Further Education colleges.

The Dor Kemmyn steering group reviewed its project and scrutinised evaluations made by schools and colleges. These showed that these events were particularly valued by schools and colleges where there was a feeling that pupils were not being exposed to the increasing diversity around them. 

 Bolton Interfaith Council

Bolton Interfaith Council has developed a series of faith trails for schools. Often these trails take in three places of worship during a day and it is possible to walk the trail – although some schools provide their own transport between the venues. The impact of these faith trails has been twofold. Firstly, it enriches pupils’ knowledge and understanding of the faiths that they are learning about as part of their religious education. Secondly, it has provided positive volunteering opportunities for people within faith communities. Faith Trails have proved to be so popular that have been extended to Community, Voluntary and Statutory Sector groups and all other sections of the community.

During Inter Faith Week Bolton Interfaith Council has also been organising a Passport to Faith event, which includes a food share. Working with eight to ten schools, which each send ten pupils, a day of activities is provided involving religious traditions in Bolton. Originally this involved Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs. It  now also includes Baha’is and Jains.

One project of Bolton Interfaith Council is Bolton Interfaith Young Ambassadors Forum. This is made up of girls aged 12 – 18 from across the religious communities in Bolton. When Young Ambassadors leave school and go to university they can also keep in touch and during vacations they have the opportunity to come back and contribute to the group. The group has a series of discussions which are wide ranging and of interest to them as young people of faith. They also go into primary schools to help pupils in Year 6 as they start to think about moving to secondary school. Their sessions focus on common anxieties that primary school pupils may have, such as bullying. 

 

Links to resources

The Inter Faith Network, IFN member bodies and partner organisations have produced a number of resources relevant to the work of local inter faith organisations in schools and academies: