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Who Should Support Primary RE?

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Primary Religious Education has been left untouched in the new national curriculum, is this a good or bad thing? In this article Aidan Gillespie asks whether the politicians are simply providing the freedom for local advisors and faith schools to construct meaningful RE curricula and teaching, or leaving teachers to decide what takes priority in a packed curriculum?

signpostPrimary RE has been left off the national programmes of study yet again while being acknowledged as being central to a child’s educational experience. The logic of this is not entirely straight forward. Politicians have left it up to Local Education Authorities and their Standing Advisory Councils for Religious Education (SACRE) to design and provide RE curricula that reflect the local character while also supporting children in building up a picture of the faith story of our country. Faith schools have always followed their own curriculum that is representative of their faith tradition but in line with the aims of the National Curriculum.

On the surface of it, this seems a fine approach. Faith schools and in particular the Roman Catholic and Church of England schools have benefitted from the freedom that this provides but also have the distinct advantage of having teachers who are largely part of or sympathetic to the faith of the school, as outlined in their recruitment procedures. Teachers within these schools are very often well versed in the religious language and stories they are sharing with their pupils.

But what of non-faith (Maintained) schools?  How do they use this freedom to support both teaching and learning? How do non-specialist teachers of RE approach teaching a subject as complex and challenging as Religious Education and present it in an engaging, enjoyable and challenging way? OFSTED asked the same questions in their ‘Transforming Religious Education’ document in 2010 and noted that the quality of teaching was generally unsatisfactory with no significant improvement from its earlier inspection of 2007 (Making Sense of Religion, Ofsted, 2010, p4). The possible cause of this according to Ofsted was two-fold:

1) The locally agreed syllabi did not provide enough guidance on planning to support non specialist teachers.

2) Teachers lacked the specialism and knowledge to plan and deliver effective lessons.

Who, then, should support teachers in planning and delivering enjoyable and challenging RE lessons? This is a very difficult question, not least in the sense of which type of school are we thinking about when we pose it. For those whose working context is in a faith school, their lot seems to be slightly more straightforward; for those in the maintained sector the answers are few and far between when examining the new programmes of study. The new curriculum has provided teachers and schools, through locally agreed syllabi, a degree of freedom in what and how they plan and teach RE.

Taking in to consideration the target driven environment within some schools and a narrow focus on core subjects that push up results, all Humanities subjects including Religious Education could be left out in the cold with pupils receiving little or no Religious Education and cultural awareness of any kind whilst at school. Academies in particular are under pressure to provide instant results in the core subjects in order to justify their freedom from the National Curriculum and ensure their future in the educational landscape. Could this mean that large numbers of schools exclude Religious Education and other humanities subjects in the future in order to move up the all-important league tables at the expense of a diverse educational experience deserved by all pupils?

Perhaps Local Authorities should provide existing and trainee teachers access to specialists in the subject to improve their knowledge as this may ensure that, given the opportunity, teachers could be confident in providing their pupils with RE skills and knowledge to equip them for life in a multicultural society (All Party Parliamentary Group on RE, 2013, pp 4-5). Or perhaps, the National Curriculum should provide a statement outlining the importance of RE on contributing to community cohesion and guidance on the minimum requirements in regards to teaching and provision.

Either way, teachers of Primary Religious Education need more support than they are currently receiving. Whether the answer to this comes from the school, LEA or from the powers that be, I’m sure my colleagues would gratefully receive pedagogic manna from heaven rather than have their subject be left at the threshold.

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2 Responses to Who Should Support Primary RE?

  1. Ed and Ac Year 2 Group 3 Wednesday, 15 October 2014 at 12:58 #

    We have been looking at this article in our seminar group and have discussed it in some detail. We have come up with the following questions from the article.
    We questioned whether children in faith schools would get the opportunity to learn about other religions other than their own religion.
    Do parents send their children to faith schools because of their strong religious beliefs or do they send them to particular faith school because they want their children to go to a higher achieving secondary school?
    Who is responsible for monitor how much time is appointed to RE lessons in non faith schools?
    We do agree that all schools are in danger of not giving children an experience of the 6 ‘main’ religions. Faith schools may focus too heavily on one religion where as non faith schools are in danger of neglecting religious education all together.

    Hannah, Sophie, Claire, Helen, Sara and Tom

    • Aidan Gillespie Thursday, 16 October 2014 at 12:46 #

      Hi Hannah, Sophie, Claire, Helen, Sara and Tom,

      You’ve raised some good and important questions. Perhaps I can try to answer these in turn.

      We questioned whether children in faith schools would get the opportunity to learn about other religions other than their own religion.
      Children in Faith do (or at least should) already learn about other religions other than their own. That is to say, depending on the type of school they’re in and the LA Syllabus the extent to which other religions explored varies. But there should be coverage of different religions. A word of caution though, do children at primary school really have a religion of their own or are they following their parents religion OR perhaps there is an argument that children in faith schools are there for more reasons than being from a particular faith. Catchment, secondary school prospects etc.

      Do parents send their children to faith schools because of their strong religious beliefs or do they send them to particular faith school because they want their children to go to a higher achieving secondary school?
      They send them for many reasons. Some do send them because their family faith is important and see school as an extension of community. Others send them because the faith school is their local school and some send them if they think the school is of a particular quality. In other words, it’s complicated.

      Who is responsible for monitor how much time is appointed to RE lessons in non faith schools?
      The Head teacher and subject coordinator and of course the Governors. It very often depends on the ethos of the Head teacher and coordinator to the amount of time and value that is placed on RE. This is something that the RE Council and Ofsted have noted in 2013 independently of each other is that the amount of variance between schools is a problem.

      Hope that helps and thanks for reading the article. Make sure and keep a regular eye in ‘Considered’