This was the refrain from the floor as well as the panel at the Bishop Creighton Academy - Peterborough Cathedral 'Question Time' event held in Peterborough last week last week. Around 30 students from Bishop Creighton Academy filed into the Bishop's Palace in Peterborough Cathedral to quiz faith leaders from the city about the role of their institutions in a diverse 21st century city. The event was the culmination of a year of work that school teachers, the school council, and the Cathedral have developed in partnership under the banner of the Peterborough Curriculum.
Students, senior clergy including the Bishop of Peterborough, and members of the Peterborough Inter-faith Council, sat on the panel, while pupils asked questions from the floor.
The project had multiple aims for the school:
to allow students to learn about the role of the Cathedral through the ages, incorporating history, geography and other subjects into the project;
to encourage students to reflect on the role of other faith institutions;
to project the Cathedral as a place for students and their families of all faith backgrounds to visit, to learn and to feel at home in;
and to develop critical, questioning and debating skills in the students.
Question the panel the students certainly did. About the Cathedral, its history, its role in the community, and that of the Hindu temples in the city. Although it was the opinions voiced from the floor that were most striking: almost exclusively relating to the importance of different faiths and communities living well together in Peterborough. This was particularly profound because it was at this school during the build up to the English Defence League march in the city in December 2010 that I heard about children crying, believing that people were coming to cut their heads off. The class of majority Muslim Year 5 students being offered the chance to express their views and question Anglican, Catholic and Hindu faith leaders on the role of their institutions in the city was an exciting idea, and one that came directly from the teachers and Cathedral staff working together.
The plan is to repeat and extend the idea of a 'Question Time' format to more schools in Peterborough in future years, to include a diverse range of issues, and to include live broadcasting into the event. The event is prepared for throughout the school year, and embedded in the school curriculum.
Sometimes, however, it is the simplest and most unexpected things that come out of projects like these, that are the most powerful.
When the Bishop of Peterborough explained to the children that their school was named after a former Bishop who had lived in this very building - heads whizzed around to stare at the painting of the eminent Bishop Creighton on the wall. The children were palpably surprised and excited that their own school shared a name with this eminent individual on the wall.
And it was this connection between the Cathedral and its geographically closest primary school that has been reignited by the Peterborough Curriculum work. Last year, when the school was flooded during a heavy downpour, the partnership that had been developed around curriculum design meant that teachers could pick up the phone to the Cathedral Education Officer: and the entire school decamped to the Cathedral for the rest of the day.
The curriculum work and learning that students are doing through the school's partnership with the Cathedral is yet to be evaluated. But the relationship between students and their locality; between their own identity and that of the city in which they are growing up; and between the school and the Cathedral are already profoundly different.
The Cathedral, our other partners, the schools with whom we work and others in the city are now debating how to spread and embed the idea of educational partnership throughout Peterborough. Watch this space!