THE Church of England Education Office has launched a programme that seeks to transform the teaching of Christianity in schools around the country. The programme, Understanding Christianity, will be available free to all schools in England.
“The Church of England has a particular responsibility to ensure that Christianity is well taught in our schools,” the Church’s chief education officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, told a seminar at Lambeth Palace last month. Dr David Ford, the Regius Professor of Divinity Emeritus at Cambridge, who advised the programme developers, said that it made clear connections between biblical texts and Christian practices and pupils’ own lives. It would result in a deeper and wiser understanding of Christianity, he predicted.
One of the largest-scale religious-education programmes produced, Understanding Christianity includes resource materials, but also includes extensive training — up to 15 hours of professional development — for teachers in the schools that sign up to the programme.
The professional development included in the deal will address one of the biggest problems affecting RE: a lack of subject knowledge among those teaching the subject, which is a legal curriculum requirement. Most teachers will have had, at best, nine hours on RE on university initial teacher-training programmes; those qualified through schoolbased schemes may have had none at all.
OFSTED reports consistently criticise the standard of RE lessons, and official data in 2014 showed that 54 per cent of those teaching RE had no relevant professional qualification. In the same year, a National Society review of RE recommended “a more intellectual, coherent, and challenging resource for teaching Christianity”.
Funded by the Culham St Gabriel’s, Sir Halley Stewart, and Jerusalem trusts, and a private donor, and developed in 50 schools across the country, Understanding Christianity has been written by experts from the organisation RE Today.
Huw Thomas, the director of education for Sheffield diocese which has developed its own programme for teaching the Bible in its church schools, said that the programme was urgently needed. “The teaching of Christianity is often superficial. These materials will add depth to our teaching. The authors have twigged that children like big ideas rather than patronising simplicity,” he said.