Pupils from two diocesan secondary schools helped the Archbishop of Canterbury launch Difference for Secondary Schools at the Church of England’s National Education Conference.
The teenagers from St Peter's Academy, Stoke and St Peter's Collegiate School, Wolverhampton travelled to London for the launch at the NC24 conference run by the CofE's Education Office for school leaders, chaplains church leaders and many others.
The students put questions to the archbishop during the presentation and answered some questions of his own.
"To interview the Archbishop felt surreal as it was a once in a life-time ooprtunity, but I loved it" said Tehilla (y8), one of the party from Wolverhampton
Alexandra (y9) enjoyed the course and participating in the conference. "It was really fantastic. It was fun to see new places and with new people. It felt royal, a big honour to meet and have breakfast with the archbishop. We were all nervous at the start but relieved and happy at the end."
"We had to wake up super early since we had an early train which left at 6.03" said Precious (y8), part of the Wolverhampton group. "Before meeting the Archbishop I didn't really know what think of him since I've only heard that he crowned the King. But I thought that he would be nice. I felt pretty nervous to meet him since he's an important person."
Success (y9, Stoke) added "He was really happy and welcoming, he was thanking us for coming and sorry for making us go through the stress of the train journey."
"Until we got there I don't think any of us realised the hugeness of the event." said her teacher, Maria Rubin. "He comes with an entourage into the room and we think we have to say the right thing but he put us at ease. We had a briefing before on the stage so that was easier."
She observed real growth in the students that took part. Caleb (y10) noticed too. "The course and event improved confidence in me after standing in front of hundreds of people." His peer, Kenny felt the same: "What surprised me was having the confidence to speak to the archbishop and all the people, I didn't expect to be able to say as much as I did."
Caleb and Kenny impressed as they helped facilitate a workshop for delegates later, working so well together they were dubbed 'the Ant and Dec of Stoke'.
Revd Catherine Matlock, Pioneer Missioner in Stoke who co-facilitated the Difference course at St Peter’s Academy, Stoke and accompanied the groups to London said: "They did the most awesome job. It was a great day!"
Difference for Secondary Schools highlights three qualities for engaging with others: being curious; being present; and reimagining. The students have learned to think much deeper in their conversations with others. "Being curious is wondering more, thinking why is someone seeing it that way" said Caleb.
In his keynote speech, Archbishop Justin explained why the Difference for Schools course had been developed.
“Our society is complex, ever more intertwined owing to social media and is struggling to grapple with differences and division in such a way that all can truly flourish. Social media has connected us in ways we never imagined possible, but it also works to drive us ever further apart. We know at the moment what it is to be trolled to be threatened. It happens in school communities. It happens in local communities, it happens at a national and a global level.”
Archbishop Justin said he had observed a society where people were losing the ability to disagree without hating each other. “If you follow that path on you end it in a catastrophe,” he said.
But the Difference for Secondary Schools has potential to develop better ways of disagreeing and appreciating other viewpoints. It's certainly been a success in Stoke.
"How deeply the students looked into the course has astounded me" said Maria. "They have wisdom and insight that can teach me - I learnt as much from them as they did from the course."
"Attending the National Conference was such an incredible opportunity for our students at St Peter’s" added Lalita Mal who led the group from Wolverhampton. "They displayed so much confidence and resilience throughout the day and we are so proud of them. Their interview with the Archbishop infront of hundreds of guests was fantastic to be a part of, seeing them on stage was the highlight of my day. The Difference Programme has allowed them to flourish as individuals and I think it’s something that all schools should adopt!
"The event made me realise how many head teachers there actually are, and that because we piloted the Difference Program we are making a difference in education." said Precious.
"As we promoted the Difference program, lots of schools across England have now signed up for this course to change the way people in schools view life" added Tehilla.
The course has clearly had a postive effect on both students and teachers. "To be involved in the pilot has been such a rich experience for us all and the highlight for the adults has been seeing these wonderful young people flourish in front of our eyes!" said Revd Catherine. "We are now keen to introduce the Difference course into more secondary schools in the Diocese…and of course to be involved in the pilot for primary schools."
Difference for Secondary Schools is a development of the adult course launched last year and recommended by our bishops as a Lent Course option in 2023.
Read more about the launch of Difference for Secondary Schools which also reveals plans to launch Difference for Primary Schools next year.