Reading, writing, arithmetic and Religious Education

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RELIGIOUS Education is regularly in the news. National reports have highlighted the difficulties with RE and religious literacy in wider society writes ANNE ANDREWS.

In December 2015 the Woolf Institute in Cambridge published Living with Difference – Community, Diversity and the Common Good. The report demonstrated the lack of religious awareness in society and made recommendations for what needs to change: “Education about religion and belief is essential because it is in schools and colleges that we have the best and earliest chance of breaking down ignorance and developing individuals who will be receptive of the other, and ask difficult questions without fear of offending.”

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RE for REal, the future of Teaching and Learning about Religion and Belief (Goldsmiths, University of London 2015) recommended the need for a discussion about the purpose of RE, the content and structure of courses, the creation of a national framework and the removal of the right of parents to withdraw their children from RE.
The National Association of Teachers of RE published its State of the Nation report in September 2017, revealing the extent to which schools are failing to abide by the legal requirement to ensure that every pupil receives their entitlement to RE.

What is religious education?

When the 1944 Education Act made RE compulsory, it was assumed most people in the UK had a Christian background, and the subject focused on teaching about Christianity. Later there was a realisation that for some people this would not sit well with their religious or non-religious worldviews and hence the right to withdraw was introduced.

In 1988 the introduction of teaching about other world faiths became statutory. Since then schools have had to teach an RE curriculum that recognises that the “religious traditions of Great Britain are in the main Christian whilst taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain.” Most RE syllabuses require the teaching of Christianity in every year group, alongside Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism with other faiths included where appropriate. More recently there have been moves to include non-religious worldviews such as Humanism and Secularism.

There is a lot of debate about the purpose of RE. A Commission for RE is currently conducting a wholesale review. An interim report published in October 2017 repeated calls from previous reports and has set out a call for a national entitlement to RE, again calling for an end to the right to withdraw. It will be interesting to see what the final report, due out in the summer of 2018, will say.

What is the Diocese of Oxford doing about RE?

Within the diocese, RE in schools is taken very seriously. We work to a definition of RE that focuses on helping children to understand a range of religions and will enable them to be able to engage in informed and balanced conversations about religions and beliefs. Each of the church schools undergoes a SIAMS (Statutory Inspection of Anglican and Methodist Schools) inspection in addition to OFSTED, examining the Christian distinctiveness of the school.
RE in Church schools follows the same criteria as community schools and there is a diocesan scheme of work for the primary phase that covers the main faiths as required by the locally agreed syllabuses. Diocesan schools constantly perform well against the inspection criteria.

The diocese supports schools with a dedicated RE adviser, who visits schools to offer support with curriculum planning, teacher training, monitoring and evaluation. The diocesan adviser is also involved with the Church of England Education Office training programme and works with advisers from other dioceses to ensure that Oxford remains in the forefront of developments and provision.

There are three diocesan initiatives to promote RE further. With funding from the Bayne Benefaction schools are offered a discount on training on a new resource that aims to improve the teaching of Christianity.

The Bayne Benefaction also helped to establish the biennial RE competition, which allows schools to showcase their RE. They have also helped to set up a new RE Ambassador scheme. Students from four secondary schools are being trained to go into their primary schools to give presentations on an aspect of faith or belief. This enables secondary pupils to gain confidence in talking about religion and to promote faith and belief in primary schools.
Every two years, the diocese also hosts an RE conference with national speakers. The next conference is currently in the planning stage and is scheduled for March 2019.

Details can be found here.

Understanding Christianity

THE language, traditions and customs surrounding Christianity can be baffling to someone who has never been exposed to church or church culture.

So, a new national resource aiming to help school children learn about the Christian faith is being rolled out across the Diocese of Oxford. The aim of Understanding Christianity is to help raise the standard of teaching in Church schools. The Bayne Benefactions has funded training for the first 100 schools in the Oxford Diocese. By the end of summer 2018 around 110 of our 283 Church of England Schools will be using the materials.

With fantastic feedback so far, Understanding Christianity has been developed by the Church of England Education Office in partnership with RE Today, Culham St. Gabriel’s, The Jerusalem Trust and The Sir Halley Stewart Trust.

Work produced by Kirtlington CE School children as part of Understanding Christianity.

Nationally it has been used in classes to teach more than 600,000 pupils in more than 22,000 classrooms across 4,000 schools.

Kirtlington CE Primary School in Oxfordshire is about to celebrate being ranked as Outstanding by the Statutory Inspection of Anglican and Methodist Schools.

Kirtlington’s RE co-ordinator, Pat Vincent, finished the Understanding Christianity training just before Christmas. She says: “I thought it was excellent training and it’s a really good resource with lots of suggestions for ways of teaching Christianity to children at a greater depth.

“We’ve got the core learning section and the digging deeper section so that we can pick and choose which parts we use for our own classes. It tells the story of Christianity very clearly. I’ve done the training so I can teach the staff here how to use the resource.”

Other schools nationally have also given positive feedback. One teacher said: “Understanding Christianity has given me the confidence to deliver fun and engaging RE. Our early years children have really grasped the concepts so far and have shown a much deeper understanding than I would have expected at such a young age. I asked my class about the new RE lessons so far.”

The responses, from children as young as four, were: “It made me feel like the world is amazing.” “When I went home I saw the creation in the walls and the trees and the grass and in the sky.” “I love learning it.”