David Church is an award-winning teacher (Professional Teaching Awards, Cymru) and Head of Religious Studies at Mountain Ash Comprehensive School (MACS), Wales. Character education and social action at MACS has resulted in multiple awards, honours and once in a lifetime experiences for pupils.
Character Education and Social Action at MACS
As a teacher at the school for twenty-three years and Head of Department for twenty years, I have taught character virtues and morality on a regular basis through my subject area. I have also been the school’s ‘charity coordinator’ throughout this time, engaging pupils in social action to raise the profiles of local and national charities and raising funds for them. In 2017, I was invited to be the ‘Teacher Speaker’ at the First Give annual awards, held at City Hall, London. In 2018, MACS was shortlisted for the ‘School of the Year’ at the First Give annual awards, held at the Senedd (Welsh Parliament) in Cardiff and one pupil went on to win the ‘Alumni of the Year’ award.
In 2017, we began our journey of taking character education to new heights by introducing the ‘First Give’ programme to pupils in Year Nine. For those not familiar with the incredible First Give programme in the UK, it is a social action programme that engages pupils with their local communities. Pupils spend eight lessons investigating and researching social issues – they then engage with local charities and seek to address these issues. Pupils work in teams in school to create a presentation about their chosen charity, raising the profile of their charity in the local community and undertaking social action to raise funds for them. Towards the end of the programme, pupils present about their chosen charity to their peers. One team from each class is voted through to the Grand School Final where one team wins a £1000 grant from the First Give organization for their charity.
Despite living in an area of high socio-economic deprivation, the pupils at MACS have simply been phenomenal in the amount of voluntary hours of social action and service that they have undertaken on behalf of their chosen charities. Their fundraising has been awe-inspiring. To put these figures into context, the most amount of money previously raised for charity by the school was £2,500. In 2017, £1,980 was awarded to local charities by the Year Nine cohort alone. In 2018, £5,439 was awarded, and in 2019, a phenomenal £10,350 was awarded. In total, in just three years £17,769 has been awarded by pupils to twenty-one local charities. Through our engagement with the WE charity organisation, many of our pupils studied and applied for the ‘Virgin Atlantic – Be the Change’ Scholarship programme, to spend three weeks of their summer holiday helping to build a school in Rajasthan, India. Just thirty pupils are awarded these scholarships, worth £3,500, every year across the UK. In 2018, three pupils were winners, followed by a further two winners in 2019. Four of the five winners were pupils who had undertaken the First Give programme and were entitled to free school meals.
In 2019 at WE Day UK (held at Wembley Arena in London), I was invited by the WE organization and Kensington Palace to take the three 2018 scholarship winners to a private meeting backstage, and to be commended by H.R.H The Duke and Duchess of Sussex. In 2020 and 2021, I nominated two pupils and they went on to win the prestigious Diana Award. The 2018 recipient was one of just 184 global winners and just one of eight from Wales. The 2021 recipient was one of 308 global winners and just one of six from Wales.
Another example of our pupils’ engagement in social action is within their ‘blended learning’ lessons in Religious Studies. In both February and in March, pupils won the national ‘First Give Helping From Home’ £1000 grants for their chosen charities by sourcing, creating and delivering afternoon tea hampers, essential ‘pamper’ boxes and ‘Little bags of happiness’ to over 100 key workers and the elderly.