Supporting pupils of all abilities through the linear A Level

One of the significant challenges we have faced in RE departments this year has been the change to the linear A Level. Heads of Department and teachers have made our choice from the new specifications and are reaching the end of the first year of teaching. Some schools offer both the AS and A Level side by side and are thus in the midst of examination preparation. But others, including mine, have scrapped AS Levels altogether and offer pupils a two-year course.

This first year of OCR H573 has been a year of reflecting on our practice. My priority is to ensure that my department delivers the material in a manner which will best prepare our pupils for their three terminal examinations at the end of the course. The challenges of the new specification have revealed themselves over this year, and they were manifested most acutely by some disappointing performances in our recent Year 12 mock examination. This blog outlines these challenges and gives some practical suggestions about how to improve the teaching and learning in the Sixth Form to ensure that pupils of al abilities can be supported through the linear A Level and reach their potential in the subject.

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Teaching the Holocaust

It is Holocaust Memorial Day on the 27th January and every year my department run a three week unit on the Holocaust with our year nine pupils.

Recently, two of our top year 11 boys invited Dr. Martin Stern to our school to meet with staff and students in a number of forums to discuss the holocaust and his own personal experiences.

What struck me the most was the discussion he had with myself, and other members of staff in the humanities departments. I asked the question “Given that we may have a limited timeframe for teaching about the Holocaust, what do you think might be the most important things we should include”?

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The New A Level RS Specification: Essay Writing

My Lower Sixth pupils have got off to a flying start with their first foray into the new A Level specification from OCR.

I am teaching the Philosophy side of the course this year and we are just wrapping up their first topic: Ancient Greek Influences.

Crucial to helping them make the big step from GCSE to A level has been helping them come to terms with what is required when writing an essay. It is our whole school policy to not enter any pupil for AS levels and, as such, we are fully linear. Looking ahead to Summer 2018 it is imperative that my pupils get as much practice writing essays as they can.

In the Summer holiday I attended an OCR course in London designed to introduce the new course to teachers and Hugh Campbell gave some important information about exam technique. The crucial focus for pupils should be twofold:

  1. Answer the question directly.

  2. Use evaluative language. 

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Improving Teaching and Learning

This year, I have been thinking about how to improve the teaching and learning in my department. A few key areas will be the focus for us, and I think they are useful for any teacher of RE.

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1. Establish an ethos of personal development.

Only as reflective practitioners will we be best placed to achieve excellence in the quality of our teaching and learning. I aim to lead by example and have adopted an ‘open-door’ policy for any teacher to observe my lessons at any time. I am open to new ideas and hope that my own research and observation of colleagues will help me learn new skills, reflect on different pedagogical approaches and enhance my own practice.

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So, you want to be Head of Department?

It is the penultimate day of term today and I find myself reflecting back over my final year with more critical an eye than usual.  That was my last year as a ‘teacher’, because, as of September, I will be Head of Department.

I am looking forward to the challenge immensely, and I believe that the only reason why I am ready it is due to some excellent people who I have had the privilege of working with in recent years.  Each of these individuals in mind has given me some elements to aspire to as I begin the next stage in my career. This blog serves two purposes, a suggested list of what might make a brilliant HOD, indeed things I aspire to, as well as a list of things I am really grateful for.Read More »

New A Level Specifications: Making the Choice

RE Departments around the country are being faced with a very tricky situation: picking an A level qualification for teaching from September 2016. As it stands, all of the ‘big four’ exam boards has been approved by Ofqual and, at last, the decisions can finally be made.

The most daunting part of this change for me, has been the shift towards the inclusion of much more theological material. It is not my particular area of expertise and I am going to have to do a lot of independent study and subject knowledge development. This is a positive thing though, I will be a better teacher for it. In conversation with other HODs, this new element has been a key reason from moving towards other options such as the Pre-U, or AQA Philosophy. As a teacher in the independent sector, I have also given these due consideration, but all-in-all I am going to stick with Religious Studies for the time being.Read More »

GCSE Reforms in Religious Studies: A Blessing

This post is written as part of an RE ‘Battle of the Blogs’, you can read the opposition here.

It frustrates me that so much credit at GCSE can be given-over to the “in my opinion” response. I am interested the views of my pupils and enjoy giving opportunities for debate and discussion. But, I am not that interested. What I have seen in the RE classroom over the past 3 years is a worrying lack of time given over to enriching children’s’ skills in empathy for others views via a genuine critical assessment of their own views. This, I argue, is much more important. As we look to implement the changes which have been made nationally, I hope that this is might be on the cards for the future of RE. (Previous Blog – 14 May 2015)

I wrote the above a year ago; I was utterly frustrated with the lack of depth in GCSE specifications. I have always felt that the qualifications were low on substance, so I am delighted by much of the reform at GCSE. The changes have, I feel, brought about ample more opportunity for religious literacy, whilst retaining a focus on analytical skills and writing well-reasoned, carefully supported arguments.

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Building Strong Strategies- A blog about #EnergisingRE : How is RE developing and where does its future lie?

How is RE developing and where does its future lie?

This blog is the second (and very tardy) resulting from the discussions and dialogues at the ‘Energise RE 2015’ conference in Reading from October 3-4th 2015. Over this weekend, Culham St Gabriel’s Trust brought together over 200 teachers and other RE professionals for a unique opportunity; to hear and respond to outstanding speakers and national leaders in RE, to network and form new alliances.

During the weekend, Dilwyn Hunt gave a super keynote speech on assessment in RE. It was filmed by the brilliant Jason Ramasami and is really worth a watch.Read More »

“What’s in a name?” But RE is no rose….

“If you have not guessed my name by month’s end, then you shall be mine!” ― Rumpelstilzchen

In all three of the recent ‘game-changer’ reports, Clarke/Woodhead, RE for REal, and Woolf, calls are being made for great revolution in RE. A lot of what is being discussed makes a whole lot of sense… until you get to the name-change business.

I am, actually, in favour of changing the name of RE. I do think it matters. BUT. If we are to re-brand our subject we must think like business people. A name is a banner to fly, and also a kernel. It is an important factor, but what is more important is the thing which it represents.Read More »

Informing Good Practice- A blog about #EnergisingRE – How is religion and belief changing in the UK and what impact should this have on RE?

This blog is from the discussions and dialogues at the ‘Energise RE 2015’ conference in Reading from October 3-4th 2015. Over this weekend, Culham St Gabriel’s Trust brought together over 200 teachers and other RE professionals for a unique opportunity; to hear and respond to outstanding speakers and national leaders in RE, to network and form new alliances.

 In the opening address from Mark Chater and others, a weather report for RE was offered: there is a lot of rain, mist and thundery spells. Being left out of curriculum reform, finding ourselves side-lined by the Ebacc and whilst waiting for new GCSE and A level qualifications to be approved by Ofqual means there are some uncertain times for RE ahead.  

But, it is not all overcast. There are some sunny patches to be found in the great work being done by schools, universities and faith groups around the country. In these three blogs, I offer what I believe we can do to facilitate a heatwave for RE. For now, it is important that we take a resilient view. If we can recognise that there is no bad weather, only bad clothing, we can look forward to a great future for RE. Just as faith calmed the storm for the disciples, faith in positive changes for RE, I have no doubt, will enable the heatwave to come. For me, it is change in RE which is our raincoat, umbrella and galoshes. We need to wear it well.

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