Pupils and School Leaders Inspire with Conference Stories

Delegates from across the Diocese gathered for the first in-person event many had attended since before the pandemic. There was a sense of anticipation as they listened to inspirational keynote speakers, gifted pupils and brilliant school leaders tell their stories at the Church School Leaders’ Conference: ‘My Story, Our Story, God’s Story’.

Stories have the power to inspire us and provoke us to action. Kadie Kanneh-Mason spoke of her experiences which she recounts in her recently published book, House of Music. Kadie is a gifted speaker and painted a picture of the struggle, hard work, and domestic chaos which underpins the amazing success the children now enjoy. She also unpacked her own traumatic experience of arriving in England in the 1970s and then living in Wales with her recently widowed white mother after her Sierra Leonian father passed away.

Pupils from Bluecoat Wollaton, Mount C of E Primary, and Sneinton C of E Primary – all from a variety of ethnic and cultural heritages – shared their stories and gave delegates an insight into the ways in which their school communities had enabled them to flourish. One of the pupils from Sneinton introduced herself as ‘a proud Nigerian woman’. The impact of these stories on attendees was profound. One Headteacher remarked, “I have to say the pupils from Sneinton will stay with me for a very long time.”

Headteachers Lisa McVeigh and Heather Gabb spoke with passion and honesty about their journey towards equity, moving from realising they needed to the strategies they are now putting in place.

Afternoon keynote speaker, Allana Gay, challenged the audience to venture beyond being moved emotionally to making change happen. Her key messages included asking how we know everyone feels welcome and can be their authentic selves. Crucially, she challenged the school leaders to consider the question: “How do our young people feel and know they belong?”

A key message that leaders took with them from all the speakers was the need to listen more intentionally to pupils.

Reflecting on the conference, Bishop Andy enthused, “It was a privilege for me to be part of the recently held Church School Leaders’ Conference, and I was encouraged by the deep sense of commitment and passion shared by everyone present to enable children and staff to flourish in all aspects of their education and learning across the schools in our diocese.  Having been in my position as the Bishop of Sherwood for just over a year now, this was my first opportunity to meet many of our Headteachers in-person and to share something of our vision of closer integration and partnership between churches and schools. It was a joy and an inspiration.”

Diocesan Director of Education, Nigel Frith, commented, “The conference was moving, inspiring and challenging … The pace was perfect, the presenters (of all ages!) were amazing. There was a real sense of unity across the room, along with joy that we could meet face to face.”

Revd. Mark Tanner (Acting Chair of the DBE) summarised the impact of the conference for all the delegates, “The Conference had great speakers, inspiring and challenging, but what really struck me was relationships.  Head Teachers sharing their experiences and rooting for one another, listening to children speaking with passion about inclusion and the values that drive them and setting all this in the context of worship.  There was a tangible sense of togetherness and a commitment to see our schools thrive.”