After the earthquake, wind, and fire came a still, small
RELIGIOUS education has suffered under Michael Gove: the
earthquake was the (now downgraded) English Baccalaureate, which
undermined RE for 16-year-olds; the hurricane was being left out of
the DfE's review of the curriculum; and dangerous fire has burned
RE in new types of schools, such as academies and free schools,
many of which have been unclear about their continuing
responsibility to deliver RE for every child.
So, what is the whisper? Ultimately, RE teachers are still the
key to providing pupils with great experiences of spiritual
exploration. Governors and senior staff have a part to play, as
well. As the chair of the RE Council, John Keast, rightly says:
"The two most important things that school leaders and governors
can do to strengthen RE is, first, to ensure they are familiar with
RE as a subject in the curriculum today - and not rely on their own
memories of it; and, second, to apply the same professionalism to
the management of RE as they do to other subjects, in terms of
expectations, curriculum, teaching and learning, staffing,
resourcing, and support."
But what can the ordinary teacher do, in addition, to help
rescue the experience of RE in schools?
Inject spiritual activities into the
At Hazlemere C of E Combined School, in Buckinghamshire, the RE
co-ordinator, Susan Brice, has been getting pupils aged eight to 11
to plan reflective RE experiences for the younger pupils - such as
working in pairs on blind-faith walking, life-journey planning,
making a cross of lights (in this, the children heard the story of
Jesus's forgiveness of even the people who killed him, and thought
about how forgiveness is like a light, and how hard we sometimes
find it to forgive), and inviting parents and other adults to share
in the experience. When the children design an activity, it is
received with respect by their peers, and the spiritual life of the
school is being enhanced.
Plan more "find out" RE
One school in Warwickshire has been using its "Forest School"
outdoor learning programme to investigate questions such as: "What
was the first Diwali like?" "Can we tell the story in the forest?"
"What was it like for Moses to stand in front of a burning bush?"
"Can we create a Succoth shelter, similar to the ones Jewish people
use as reminders of living in the wilderness; and why do Jewish
people do this?"
RE can become a lead subject for investigative and enquiry work.
Many teachers, using methods from "Philosophy4Children"
(www.philosophy4children.co.uk), are developing the RE curriculum
as a thinking centre for the whole curriculum.
Grab time from any subject by making cross-curricular RE
A teacher from Walsall reports that linking RE to drama, dance,
and art has had good effects in her urban primary school. Many
previously unenthusiastic staff became more committed to RE because
they saw the creative side of the subject in action. And many
creative pupils did their best work exploring sacred stories in
Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism, through the arts.
Use pupil enthusiasm, and special events, to make a case
for the subject
In Wolverhampton, a secondary department decided to run a whole
day of RE, on the topic of evil, for pupils close to choosing their
GCSE options. Pupils responded enthusiastically, with 85 per cent
evaluating the day as "good" or "excellent". One pupil wrote: "I
expected today to be boring, but it wasn't. It really made me think
about how you can combat evil peacefully."
Another, after a first encounter with Friedrich Nietzsche,
wrote: "I was shocked by his views: everyone is entitled to an
opinion, but his was horrible. It was really fascinating."
Encourage debate and expect arguments to be
An RE teacher from Haslingden High School, in Rossendale, Ben
Wood, tackled the topic of prayer with his pupils by getting them
to dramatise arguments between atheists and believers about whether
prayer is a waste of breath, or a force to change the world.
The students have found that, because RE has often focused on
their debating skills, they have become better at expressing their
own beliefs. A motto for RE that may appeal to some pupils could be
"The arguer's subject".
Get the roots down, and get the walls down
In many primary and secondary schools, pupils have identified
the fact that the study of RE has encouraged their tolerance, and
built their respect. Good teachers know that identity needs to be
deep-rooted, if pupils are to be confident enough not to build
walls against those who may seem to threaten them. RE can be
rescued by being assertive - to heads, governors, and parents -
about the value of teaching both tolerance and respect in RE.
Lat Blaylock is editor of the magazine RE Today