Article by Linsey Wildsmith, Love Black Country
Utter the phrase “Independent Christian School” and you will most likely conjure up mental images of expensive private establishments run by religious extremists who brainwash their pupils and refuse to teach Science or Sex Education in their curriculum. In America in particular, where Independent Christian Schools are far more common than they are here in the UK, the stereotypical image of a young person who has graduated from a Christian School is someone who is closeted, naive and ill-prepared for the real world.
“That couldn’t be further from the truth,” explains Hayley Bowen, Director of The King Alfred School in Gornal. “Our goal is to raise up young men and women who are well-rounded and equipped to succeed in the wider world.”
It’s a sunny Monday morning in Lower Gornal and I’ve arrived at Lake Street Methodist Church to explore the premises and meet the Directors of the newest Christian school in our region, The King Alfred School (TKAS). Due to open in September 2021 initially to children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2, the vision of the school is to provide pupils with a Classical education, rooted in a Christian ethos.
“The heart of Classical Education is about educating the whole child, rather than simply teaching them a list of subjects and topics that must be covered,” explains Hayley as she shows us around the small hall and handful of side rooms they are leasing from the church.
Whilst the premises themselves remain a work in progress – a team of just 12 volunteers are currently involved in refurbishing the building in order to make it fit for purpose as a school environment – the vision is very much established and Hayley’s passion and knowledge are incredibly inspiring.
“A Classical Christian Education covers beautiful content, looking at the development of civilisation and some of the most virtuous historical figures to ever have lived. As children learn the history of civilisation, they’re inspired to become more like the people they’re learning about.”
As Hayley explains more about the history and academic rigorousness of a Classical Education and lists numerous statistics about the numbers of those classically educated who appear in the highest percentile of achievers in the UK, I find myself more won over by the concept. As a mother of two young boys, success at school is always on my mind and the flaws in modern schooling in the UK are glaringly obvious.
In fact, Hayley is not the only person feeling drawn to re-imagine what education could look like. Over in Walsall, Kevin Davies and Dan Parkes, both Christian Leaders within the Black Country, have been re-examining and exploring how school can be done differently through their work with the Mercian Trust, a group of Academy Schools across Walsall.
But despite this, as Hayley talks, I find myself asking another question. There is clearly a lack of Classical schools in the UK so isn’t that enough of a USP for TKAS? Why does it need to have such an overt Christian context? Don’t Christian schools just create brainwashed young people who ultimately fall away from faith once the Christian school bubble bursts?
Thankfully, Hayley isn’t at all offended by the bluntness of my question and answers incredibly graciously in a way that challenges my preconceived ideas about Christian schools dumbing down their curriculum and brainwashing their pupils.
“We realise that a Christian school isn’t for everyone and traditional schools work well for some pupils. What a Christian school does do is offer people another option and we believe this is key. It gives families a different choice. Combining a Classical Education with a Christian ethos equips Christian children with the skills they need to explain why they believe what they believe and engage with academic questions about their faith logically. It’s the classical form of study that gives it the academic rigour and the Christian worldview that gives it soul. It gives children the tools to thrive in life with the right Christian foundations. It enables them to be sharp, critical and independent thinkers who are not just echo chambers of what they’ve been told or what they’ve searched for on google! We don’t just want our students to know something is true. We want them to know why something is true and a Classical Christian Education develops that knowledge and those skills within them.”
Hayley and her husband Tom have been carrying the vision for TKAS for over half a decade now. I first remember hearing Hayley share about the school at a Love Dudley Leader’s Breakfast 5 years ago. They have remained faithful to the vision God gave them and engaged with Dudley churches at the earliest stage.
“Partnership is everything,” explains Hayley, with true gusto. “We believe our vision will ultimately serve numerous churches across the region as the school is independent from any one church. Our dream is to equip children to be leaders in the Church across the area in the future.”
What amazed me when I visited the school that morning was how God has placed the vision for TKAS into the hearts of two unassuming Black Country people like Hayley and Tom.
On one level, they’re just normal people. Yet they have been faithful and obedient to His call. They have invested emotionally, spiritually and financially into a vision He gave them many years ago. They have experienced the provision of God on many occasions along the way, which is always a great litmus test of whether He is actually “in” something or not. Just this summer, a decorating bill for part of the building came to £1020.05 and on the same day, a cheque arrived in the post for exactly £1020.50!
Most importantly, they have not given up on what they heard Him say and they are on the verge of seeing it begin to come to fruition.
Already their story is inspiring people and the school hasn’t officially opened yet. Who knows how God will use their testimony to inspire other Black Country Christians to pursue the vision in their hearts in the years to come for the sake of the Kingdom in our region.
At Love Black Country, we’ve heard God say to us, very clearly, that we need to give Him a decade for mission and to throw our arms around the next generation. This challenge is about investing, sowing, working the ground and preparing for a long-term harvest of children and young people in our region.
The vision of TKAS seems to carry a similar trajectory, with an extremely long-term Kingdom vision to equip academically strong young people to be salt and light to the world. The fruit of this may not be seen be seen for many years – the oldest member of the first cohort of the school will only be 6 years old. The reality though, is that if we don’t invest in the next generation of leaders at a young age, equipping them with deep-rooted foundations in God, a passion for the transformation of our world and the skills they need to face the inevitable challenges to their faith as they grow up, their chances of continuing to walk with God are increasingly slim. Any number of national statistics regarding demising church attendances will tell you that.
The King Alfred School is just one of the many ways that God is helping His people to wrap their arms around the next generation and buck this trend and we’re honoured and humbled that it’s happening right here in the Black Country.
“We want to help raise a generation of young adults who are Christian warriors, not Christian wimps! People who are influential in society and leaders in the public sphere,” explains Hayley as our visit draws to a close.
One look at the global news will tell you that our world is crying out for leaders like that. We need men and women with a moral backbone, a kind and open heart and the intellectual abilities to make changes in society that will benefit us all.
To have an institution in the Black Country with that kind of vision gives us great hope for the future and we look forward to seeing how the work of TKAS develops in the coming years.
For more information on the school itself, including admissions policies, fees and how you can get involved in supporting the vision, please read the footnote at the bottom of this article.
There are many ways that you can get involved and stay updated with the vision for TKAS, firstly by subscribing for free to their monthly newsletter here.
Find Out More
You can read all about the vision of TKAS as well as the end of year fund-raising target of £30,000 by downloading their information booklet here.
Help is needed to continue with the renovation of the building, including help needed from painters, plumbers, fence erectors and decorators.
The main hall will be painted on the 2nd, 3rd 4th and 5th December and requires volunteers to help paint it. If you are able to offer your skills in these areas please email email@example.com.
There are other particular needs which have to be resourced before the school can progress its application to the Department for Education to be licensed, namely:
- Updating the toilet facilities
- Fitting a door entry system
- Installing signage
- Installing fencing & gates
- Installing a mobile classroom
There are generally 2 elements to all of this work. Firstly, the purchase of the equipment needed, and secondly the fitting or installation of the equipment. King Alfred school volunteers have already raised a significant sum and demonstrated their commitment through long hours of painting and decorating. Unless they can do the 5 items above, their chances of DFE registration are slim. Are you able to donate your skills to hep in these areas?
Finance is needed to continue to renovate the premises, as outlined above, to get it ready for the school opening in September 2021. All of these items are expensive, for example, a quote has been received to renovate the toilets of £20,000. Financial support is also required to build up a bursary fund for families who cannot afford the fees. If you’d like to donate to The King Alfred School financially, please click here.
Prayer partners are always required. If you are an intercessor or have a heart for prayer and wish to pray for the school, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The school will be a fee-paying school, since independent schools do not receive state funding. Fees start at £4000 per year (a quarter of the cost of the average independent school). Scholarships and bursaries will also be available.
Admissions for September 2021 will be opening online from December. Admissions will be for children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2, although the long-term vision is to provide education for children aged 3-16.
If you wish to express an interest in your child joining the school, please visit TKAS website by clicking here.