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.
In it, Hunt outlines a key problem with attainment targets in RE (see my previous blogpost) and how it has been assessed in general. In short, the use of levels have been vague, overly-convoluted, spurious and unhelpful for teachers and pupils.
RE’s future lies in a clearly set out curriculum which highlights precisely what pupils need to know about and how pupils can achieve it (without being overly prescriptive). When compared to science it is self-evident that clarity in our subject has been absent for a long time.
In this example from the science curriculum, the particulars about ‘physical matter’ are clearly outlined and, even to a non-specialist, very accessible. There is no mysterious wording, no subjective mystery or ‘abstract language’ used. In order to offer good RE we must produce learning journeys which are as carefully structured as these. It is something which is very achievable and would make a marked difference in the delivery of the material as well as the achievements of the pupils.
Another matter which I found so fascinating was Hunt’s ‘crude pie diagram’ illustrating the problem with content in RE. It highlights the vast amount of material under our remit as teachers of the subject and the problems with dividing up time devoted to that content. There is debate about whether too much time is given over to Christianity rather than agnosticism or secular worldviews, or, that in a school where the majority of pupils are Sikh or Muslim, more time should be devoted to an in depth study of that faith. You could also be asking, where are Philosophy and Ethics in all this and what gives some faith positions priority over others?
For me, this diagram has sparked a crucial influence on my teaching as I enter into 2016. It shows a muddled mess, summing up the need for change in RE; the need for reflection about our methods as well as our content. With the new GCSE and A level specifications looming, I will be beginning my long and mid-term planning in the run-up to September. I want my lessons to be giving a depth of insight into religion which builds year on year and through the key stages. I want to fulfill the requirements of the new examinations, broaden my own subject knowledge, and extend beyond the prescribed material to inspire and challenge my charges. But: How do we reach that thorough, in depth and academically rigorous teaching of religion when our remit is clearly so vast?
Hunt’s proposal of a ‘core curriculum’ where there is focus on a selection of key themes throughout the key stages, building from a basic understanding at KS1 through to something more substantial at KS3 and beyond is a step on the right direction. The selection of and focus on a small collection of essential themes within two religions will provide a better means of deepening knowledge, providing pupils with a more meaningful religious education.
The recent publication of the RE for REal report has highlighted the urgent conversations happening in the RE community. On BBC Radio 4’s #SundayRE, RE was rightly described as a vital subject and highly significant for the education of our pupils. New policy is needed for sure. RE has never been simple and as our religious landscaping continues to evolve and change I hope that we will soon have a subject which is underpinned by a settlement which truly reflects the sociological realities of religion in the UK as it is today rather than what it was in 1944:
The real picture is made up of more believing without belonging, and more non-believing at all. It is a context that is Christian, plural and secular all at the same time. We have a mid-20th century settlement for an early 21st century reality.
Perhaps this will happen soon, perhaps it won’t. Until then, my strategy for teaching good RE in 2016 will be less breadth, more depth.
Dilwyn Hunt’s keynote on film: http://whatisyourworldview.com/teaching/2015/11/8/assessment-in-re-dilwyn-hunt-keynote
Woolf Commission in December: http://www.woolf.cam.ac.uk/practice/commission-on-religion-and-belief.asp
This blog is part of #BlogSyncRE. For information please follow @REEchoChamber or go to https://thereandphilosophyechochamber.wordpress.com/