The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Elizabeth Holmes

Getting it right in RE

Following the publication of the report, A New Settlement: religion and belief in schools, Elizabeth Holmes caught up with Dr Mark Chater to find out where things stand for the subject.

The report, by Charles Clarke and Linda Woodhead, has raised some interesting questions, not the least about professional learning.

With a growing awareness that there must be changes to the way in which we approach RE in schools, what kind of CPD is needed right now?

Ofsted evidence from the 2013 report, Religious Education: realising the potential suggests that teachers and schools need to address four key areas:

  1. their understanding of the purpose of RE
  2. subject knowledge
  3. assessment and progression in RE
  4. leadership.

These are the recurrent weak areas and they hang together in many ways. None of them have gone away since the report was published. These are still the broad issues that need to be addressed.

We also need to look at the legal mechanisms around RE as it is becoming clear that these are falling apart as a result of the unintended consequences of academisation.

What needs to be offered in schools with regard to CPD?

We still need to address the four issues identified by Ofsted back in 2013. We also need to come to a new settlement for RE. The Woodhead and Clarke report addressed three areas of concern:

  1. the rules governing admissions in schools with a religious character
  2. collective worship in schools
  3. the RE curriculum.

At Culham St Gabriel’s we are concerned with the RE curriculum. Things cannot go on as they are. We have an urgent need to produce theologically and philosophically literate young people who are able to engage in reasoning about matters of religion and belief, and we need better structures to achieve this.

Subject knowledge is very important. As Tim Oates identified, we need a curriculum that encourages young people to study fewer things in greater depth. What we have currently in RE is syllabus documents that are wide open in terms of breadth. This is problematic. Some teachers are addressing this by planning to study just two or three world religions in depth, and for breadth they will study the nature of religion and belief in general. It’s about getting a balance between breadth and depth, not sacrificing one for the other.

How important is curriculum design and ensuring that teachers are equipped to do this?

Curriculum design is crucially important and ideally each school needs to think about this. There is curriculum design advice from the RE Council on RE:Online: in brief, it proposes three principles:

  1. be clear about the purpose of RE
  2. provide a balanced suite of enquiries
  3. have a clear model of progression built in.

What about those who say we should pursue only traditional approaches to education?

I’m not convinced there is a significant difference between traditional and progressive approaches. Good enquiries will always have a clear question which is being asked and subject knowledge has a central role to play. I don’t buy in to this phoney 'traditional versus progressive' conflict.

Should teachers be learning more about extremism and the ways in which good RE can help children and young people to be alert and aware?

We need subtle approaches to extremism. We cannot change behaviour by wagging fingers and saying 'do not'. Good RE encourages theological reasoning, but it is not the only part of the curriculum that can help. The task is to critically explore truth claims, so training and development to help teachers to do that will go indirectly towards tackling extremism.

These are exciting times for RE as new approaches to the curriculum, progression and assessment are all in the pipeline. It’s not unrealistic to say that training and development for teachers of RE has never been more important.

 

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