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Godly play, and teachers’ survival

06 June 2014

Dennis Richards reviews his pick of the latest education resources

THE diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales came to be (at last) on Easter Day. The new Education Officer of the Church of England Board of Education for schools in the Leeds, Bradford, and Ripon areas is the director of the Centre for Church School Education at York St John University, Richard Noake.

It is fitting, therefore, that Religion, Society and God: Public theology in action, edited by R. Noake and N. Buxton (SCM Press, £25 (CT Bookshop £22.50)), has emerged from the old diocese of Ripon & Leeds - first as a tributeto the Very Revd Keith Jukes, a much-loved Dean of Ripon, who died unexpectedly in 2013; and also to commemorate the 1300th anniversary of the death of St Wilfrid, the original founder of Ripon Cathedral.

The book is a compendium of a series of lectures delivered in the cathedral over the past five years. The format is straightforward, and deals, in the first part, with issues of ultimate concern, such as the the place of God in the modern world. The second part tackles the part played by faith in contemporary society.

The list of contributors is impressive - and so is the content: the Rt Revd Lord Harries of Pentregarth takes on Professor Richard Dawkins; the Jewish scholar Dan Cohn-Sherbok bravely tackles new ways of interpreting the Holocaust. Estelle Morris is the educationist who offers a typically thoughtful and useful consideration of faith schools.

Ms Morris, of course, is a former Education Secretary, who voluntarily resigned because she didn't think she was up to the job (not a course of action the present incumbent is likely to take any time soon). "Like all institutions, faith schools need to respond to legitimate concerns in a fast-changing world," she said. As a former Birmingham MP, she would be particularly valuable now.

Since these were lectures delivered live to a mixed audience, they are highly readable and thought-provoking. Well done, Ripon. Here's to the next series.


AT THE opposite end of the spectrum, in Exploring the Role of Godly Play in the Church Primary School, by Jane Lewis (Grove Education eD18, £3.95 (£3.56)), the author enthuses about an approach to RE based on play, and the Montessori approach to education.

Developed in the United States, in the early years of the millennium, "godly play" seeks to present an alternative to the traditional forms of RE or storytelling. This little volume will particularly appeal to proponents of a Montessori approach. Capturing the vision of godly play is essential to making it work.

Margaret Cooling is typically succinct in her assessment: "This approach is particularly good for the 'learning from' aspect of RE, which teachers often find harder than 'learning about'." Well said. She is wise enough to know that reluctant teachers of RE will be reticent about such an open-ended approach.

They will be altogether more comfortable with Emotionally Intelligent RE: Learning about our emotions from Bible stories by Cavan Wood (BRF, £7.99 (£7.20)).

Any volume that announces that it contains 25 lesson-plans for RE will naturally be of immediate interest to practitioners, and especially those who regard RE as a chore. And this is an enterprising volume, because it grasps a nettle that church primary schools often avoid: where does Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) stop, and RE start?

Anger and jealousy - the story of Cain and Abel provides a perfect vehicle to do it through RE; let's combine the two. Grief - the story of Job. Loyalty - we can't do better than Ruth and Naomi. And so on. Brilliant. And by my calculations it is 32p a lesson. If that gives me a weekend off from RE preparation, it is worth many times more.

In a similar vein, The RE Teacher's Survival Guide: A practical guide to teaching RE in primary schools, by Jane Brooke (BRF, £6.99 (£6.30)), provides a wealth of material for a teacher thrust into subject leadership in a primary school. (It invariably comes as a surprise to well-paid heads of department in secondary schools that their primary colleagues have to take on subject leadership unremunerated. Indeed, it is not unusual, in small primary schools, for a teacher to have to take on more than one subject.)

Thankfully, Brooke's comprehensive guidance to RE subject-leaders in a primary school answers all the likely questions. What are the pitfalls? How can you assess spiritual development? What if my teaching colleagues are negative towards the subject? How can I avoid offending Muslims and Hindus? What about a report to the governors? This is the stuff of sleepless nights. Worry not, this jargon-free guidance will give you all the help you need.


IT IS strange that primary schools rarely cover the First World War. But this year is surely an exception. What Price Peace? A teaching resource for primary schools exploring issues of war and peace, by Chris Hudson (BRF, £8.99 (£8.10)) is, therefore, a welcome arrival on the bookshelves.

The volume is suitable for a cross-curricular approach, using the war as a focus for RE, history, PSHE, and particularly literacy.

Parents and grandparents will be grateful that the school is undertaking this on their behalf. The unimaginable slaughter involved is probably why schools have shied away from even mentioning it. And yet the Christmas truce, Woodbine Willie, The Wipers Times, the Angel of Mons, and Toc H, among many more, open the door to imaginative, but also factual consideration of the war years.

Michael Morpugo's brilliant stories for children, Warhorse and Private Peaceful, provide the ideal background for two of the author's chosen themes: the white feather, and the widespread affection for animals felt by soldiers on the Western Front.

As Britain struggles again, in 2014, to come to terms with its position within Europe and the world, there is surely an ever-urgent responsibility on schools to explain to our children the events that have created and defined our island story.

And this is a year like no other: the 70th anniversary of D-Day takes place on 6 June, and it is the centenary of the start of the First World War. The publishers have got it right. To tackle the First World War in primary schools is an idea whose time has come.

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