Last week I was invited to speak at a meeting in Rochdale in Lancashire. A group of folks are busy setting up an excited new venture known as Gateway Christian Education, aimed at supporting Christian home educators and others within the region. It is a radical proposal involving a sort of flexi-schooling model where parents can opt into particular activities during the week, ranging from all-age worship on a Monday morning to one-on-one tutorial support in particular IGCSEs on a Tuesday or Thursday.It is an exciting project and one that I was delighted to endorse; I have been a long-time advocate of Christians radically considering the school as a social construct and coming up with an institutional alternative that is different. Home-based learning is not for everybody; however, monolithic schools that promote a secular worldview and values are not the alternative either.

In recent years, many Christians have become involved in establishing Christian schools, that to all intents and purposes institutionally resemble ordinary schools – children are expected to attend for five days a week, they are segregated according to age, classes are managed by a single adult who makes virtually all of the learning decisions for that group of children. For those of us committed to looking for different more spiritually authentic approaches to learning this seems like a mimicking of the way that everybody else does it! What excites me about the Rochdale project is that these folks have started with a blank piece of paper and asked the most radical question of all – in educational terms; “if we were starting afresh, what would a Christian educational organisation aimed at educating children and young people look like?”

Now, I do not think that the Rochdale answer is the only one possible; creation has a rich almost eccentric diversity and my suspicion is that formal education should be similarly diverse. The challenge for all of us involved in Christian education is to explore what an alternative model of learning might look like and be bold enough to move forward into something very different even when that ‘something’ appears quite nerve-wracking!

By the way – if you want to know what the first good idea to come out of Rochdale was, click here!