This is an exciting time for RE, although, of course, in the world of RE, times are always exciting.
I am sure that you will all be aware that the Ancient Greeks had two words for time: chronos is time with the sense of that eternally onward-marching sense of sequential time; kairos was time with the sense of an opportune moment, the right season, and in the New Testament ‘God’s time’. I think RE is, and has been for a good few years, living in kairos time.
A sign of this living vibrancy was the fact that I recently read the paragraph above at the launch of the new Hampshire Living Difference III Agreed Syllabus; you can read the full text here.
There have been a number of newly developed Agreed Syllabus launches, including Newham, Lancashire and Buckinghamshire and Michael Metcalf writes about the new Staffordshire syllabus below.
It has been claimed that a change in the law is needed, as the system of writing new agreed syllabuses is collapsing.
Dilwyn Hunt has done some interesting research which shows that in a period of time during which all aspects of local government are experiencing extreme difficulties and a lack of funding, SACREs and Agreed Syllabus Conferences (ASCs) are proving to be remarkably resilient. They are learning to adapt to very unfavourable conditions. Contrary to claims that the system is collapsing, LAs and ASCs are continuing to deliver on one of their core functions, which is to work together to review and update the local agreed syllabus. You can read the research here.
Other SACREs have held teacher or pupil conferences or delivered training or other CPD. Many SACREs do lots of things and do them well, and we would like to be able to share your good news, so please drop me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or send a tweet @NASACRE and let us know what your SACRE is doing.
Following on from our successful conferences on the Trojan Horse issue and Curriculum Design, we are once again holding a joint conference at the Ibis Hotel, Birmingham on 6th March 2017. This conference aims to explore the ideas of Muslims and Christians that take what might be called a ‘liberal’ view. What are their views? What are they based on? What are the issues that concern them? Why do some sincere Christians question ideas about incarnation, Biblical literalism or the role of Christ when it comes to salvation, when others do not? Why do sincere Muslims believe that attitudes towards women, secular government, non-Muslims and apostates require a deeper understanding of the sharia and ijtihad, while others do not agree? How can such issues become part of an informed discussion in schools? When teaching religious education, how do we raise the quality of the discussion?
Booking is now open and places are limited, so do book soon; more details here.
NASACRE aims to represent the views of SACREs at a national level, engaging with policymakers and politicians, the DfE, Ofsted and others including the Religious Education Council of England and Wales. In order to do this properly, we must communicate, in a bi-directional way, and we need to know what SACREs are doing now and what you would like to do in the future. In order to achieve this, we are launching The BIG NASACRE Survey. This is an online questionnaire that we would ask you to take some time to discuss and answer, please. We realise that it is quite detailed, but we feel that at this time, it is more important than ever that we are able to represent you from a position of knowledge. There is a downloadable and printable discussion document which will enable your SACRE to discuss these questions at a SACRE meeting before sending in your answers online.
You will be aware that the REC has launched an independent commission on RE and has recently issued a call for evidence. Can I urge you all, as individuals and collectively as SACREs, to consider making a written submission? The call for evidence is available by following this link.
A PDF of the Commission on RE call for evidence, containing a copy of the full set of questions, can be downloaded here to allow people to think about their responses before filling in a response online, should they wish. NASACRE, on your behalf, will be making a submission, and we are keen to hear the views of our member SACREs.
Preparing for life in Britain today: the contribution of RE
We are now accepting bookings for the NASACRE Conference and AGM 2017 on May 16th 2017 at the York Hilton, 1 Tower Street, York, YO1 9WD.
Provisional conference programme:
11:00 Arrival, registration and coffee
11:30 Welcome and introductions
11:40 Keynote address: Dr Joyce Miller
12:10 Question time
14:15 Second Keynote address: Prof Aaqil Ahmed
15:00 Discussions and questions
15:35 Table discussions/panel discussion
16:10 Westhill Awards
16:15 Closing remarks from Chair
Dr Joyce Miller is Associate Fellow in the Religions and Education Research Unit at the University of Warwick (WRERU). In 2007 she retired as Head of Diversity and Cohesion at Education Bradford, prior to which she was a Senior Lecturer in religious studies at the University of Wolverhampton. Joyce has taught in secondary schools in Coventry and Northumberland. She is a former Chair of the RE Council, AREIAC, Bradford SACRE and the Schools Linking Network.
Joyce is one of the Commissioners recently appointed by the RE Council to review the legal, education and policy frameworks for RE.
Prof Aaqil Ahmed is currently BBC Head of Religion and Ethics. He grew up in up in the north of England and is a practising Muslim. Aaqil previously headed up Channel 4’s religion and multicultural programming. He is a Professor at the School of Media and Performing Arts, Middlesex University
Aaqil explains to modern audiences why religion and ethics are so important in today’s world, and how to present the issues fearlessly but fairly without creating phoney controversy: “The subject matter is so rich, you don’t need to be that foolish and set out to do it. You just need to tell the most important stories that are relevant today.”
£100 per delegate from NASACRE member SACREs
£125 per delegate from non-member SACREs and interested others
Please note: SACRE Clerks make a booking on behalf of their delegates - please check that they have done this. Fire regulations at the venue mean we have to monitor numbers very carefully and keep to the stated number of attendees.
NASACRE encourages SACREs to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the Westhill/NASACRE Awards to enhance a SACRE's capacity to generate high quality experiences in RE (or collective worship) for their schools.
NASACRE is now inviting individual SACREs (or SACREs in partnership) to apply for a Westhill/NASACRE Award for 2017-18. Awards of up to £4,000 may be applied for via the application form on our website.
Projects should offer pupils at school opportunities to engage in compelling learning experiences in RE (or collective worship), within the broad theme of "education into diversity".
Any SACRE wishing to submit an application is strongly advised to look at the briefing notes which accompany the application form and can be found and downloaded from this webpage.
For queries, advice or further information, please contact Michael Metcalf the convenor of the Awards Panel.
The Casey Review was published in December 2016 as a result of a call by the then Prime Minister and the current Prime Minister when she was Home Secretary, for a report into opportunity and integration in isolated and deprived communities. Whilst the Review, all 199 pages of it, presents the reader with many complex issues, analysis and recommendations, there are two chapters that will be of specific interest to SACREs. Firstly, Chapter 8: Religion and secondly the sections on curriculum in Chapter 7: Inequality and harm.
The portrayal of religion in the Casey Review
The Casey Review appears to be saying two things when it comes to religion: firstly, we’re getting more secular; and secondly, we’re getting more religious at the same time (see 1.15). The Review recognises that religion can be an immense force for good (see 8.1 – 8.3) whilst it remains a divisive issue in society (8.4). What Chapter 8 recognises is that, ‘it is complex’.
Why should this matter to SACREs? Firstly, there is recognition not only of religious diversity but also of change. One section (8.22 – 8.34) focuses on what are termed as regressive attitudes within some religions, focussing on some forms of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Another issue that the report seeks to tackle is that of religious leadership and the sort of leadership that religious leaders should give. What the Review seems to forget is that, ‘it is complex’. Hence, the sort of open leadership that esteems all the rights of a diverse society is unlikely to make much inroad into those areas of religious life that want to live in counter-cultural ways. Interestingly, there are no specific recommendations when it comes to ‘religion’. What is also significant is that Chapter 8 is simply called Religion, not Religion and Belief giving the erroneous impression that non-religious beliefs are somehow universally good – or at least universally non-problematic.
The school and its curriculum
As with many such reviews, schools are seen as an answer to some of our problems.
Recommendation 4 reads: The promotion of British laws, history and values within the core curriculum in all schools would help build integration, tolerance, citizenship and resilience in our children. More weight should be attached to a British values focus and syllabus in developing teaching skills and assessing schools’ performance (their bold).
The curriculum is seen as a place where pupils learn what it really is to be British. Religious Education is only mentioned once in the whole review (Annex A: A17 – a note on Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life Report). There is no recognition of the government’s deregulation of the curriculum as part of the Academisation programme, and the impact that it is having on both RE and Citizenship education in many schools.
This report is for the government to respond to; there is no process for others to respond to the report as the Review has ended. The Department for Communities and Local Government will respond in the Spring.
SACREs may wish to focus on the following questions:
1. To what extent does the picture of ‘religion’ in the Casey Review reflect the SACRE’s local context? (Chapter 8)
2. Does the locally Agreed Syllabus reflect the real religious landscape of the local authority? (1.14 – 1.16; 3.8 – 3.11; 5.5 – 5.7; Chapter 8)
3. How are religions portrayed within the syllabus; are issues relating to the place of women or the bringing up of children across different religions, dealt with? (1.43; 5.22; 6.33; 6.53; Chapter 7 Summary bullet point 2; 7.4; 7.7 – 7.27; Chapter 8; 11.1)
4. Does RE in the local authority avoid the really difficult issues faced by society? (8.22 – 8.56)
5. How might RE reflect the fact that there is demographic split in religious identity, with many younger people being much more religiously interested than older people? (3.8 – 3.11; 3.41 – 3.42)
It’s not all doom and gloom, but the report gives a real sense of a fractured society, one that only works well for some people, where religion is a force for good in many cases. SACREs already know what it is to be under the scrutiny of a Community Cohesion focus and it may be that, whilst the Casey Review does not mention RE or SACREs, both will become important in the government’s response in Spring 2017.
In Staffordshire, as Michael Metcalf, NASACRE Treasurer explains, the Agreed Syllabus work brought together a formidable team to meet local challenges and in Newham, as Claire Clinton, Independent Adviser describes, the production of a new syllabus for Newham enabled local faith communities to demonstrate the importance of the local element of the syllabus to their communities, at a vibrant and exciting launch event.
Agreed Syllabus Conferences will be concerned to support their schools in providing guidance on assessing progress in RE after levels.
Dave Francis, Lead Consultant, RE:ONLINE writes:
Following a series of expert summits, hosted by Culham St Gabriel’s, on assessment after levels in RE, I was asked to produce some new guidance for RE curriculum planners.
The idea was, first, to try to outline the developing thinking around assessment and pupil progression in RE (Part 1), and then to offer a possible framework that syllabus designers and teachers could make use of (Part 2). The hope is that this will begin a suite of documents related to assessment in RE that continues to grow.
Various models are already being piloted. Derek and Verity Holloway, Dilwyn Hunt, Barbara Wintersgill and Lat Blaylock in particular have exciting projects going on. Their schemes are in the (relatively) early stages, so I have taken what I have found of most immediate practical use from them and offer guidance that is necessarily tentative. For some, the framework of expectations I am proposing, will seem too much like the old ‘levels’ and lack sufficient detail. Others may find them too challenging in terms of the skills and knowledge being proposed for each age group. Until they are properly tested over time we will not know how successful they are in:
(a) providing appropriately challenging and rigorous expectations for pupils’ attainment at different ages
(b) enabling teachers to make judgements about how well pupils are doing in RE, and
(c) providing support for teachers on giving feedback to pupils on what they need to do next to make further progress.
One of the difficulties in writing this new guidance was to balance the requirements for content AND skills. Tim Oates says that pupils should learn fewer things in greater depth, but how can depth be promoted without sacrificing too much breadth in the RE learning experience? To some extent, in the documents presented, the choice of specific content is left to the curriculum planner, but I hope to have provided a much clearer steer on the sort of content to be selected, than was present in the old ‘can-do’ level statements. All the same, we can’t hope to assess everything that pupils undertake in RE!
For Part 1 of the guidance, the brief was to provide a vision for a new assessment framework for RE that is based on the aims of the RE curriculum provided in the 2013 National Curriculum Framework for RE (NCFRE), alongside the objectives of GCSE Religious Studies.
My proposal is to bring together the aims and objectives to form the following focuses for assessment:
1. Knowledge and understanding of religious and non-religious worldviews
2. Analysis and evaluation of important questions and experiences of life in relation to religious and non-religious worldviews.
In Part 2, these focuses are unpacked in terms of benchmark expectations for pupils as they make progress in their RE learning, and I am grateful here to Alan Brine, who produced an initial draft.
The resulting framework aims to provide an approach this is clear, straightforward and manageable and that will provide pupils, teachers and parents with information about a pupil’s attainment in RE and what needs to be done next, for progress to be made. It attempts to balance the requirements for knowledge, understanding AND skills.
The expectations, or ‘learning standards’, do not describe any particular teaching practice or pedagogy. Nor do they describe any particular RE curriculum. Instead, they offer broad indicators of progress – signs of pupils ‘getting better’ at RE. Teachers will still need a grasp of the details of the RE syllabus being followed in their school; its aims and purpose, as well as the content contained in the programme of study. Work on assessment continues in other quarters and I very much hope that the ‘Assessment’ section of RE:ONLINE will signpost developments with those projects.
The new guidance, with the framework of expectations is published here.
Religious Education: What are we doing? Where are we going?
Monday, 6 March 2017 at Dillington House, Ilminster, Somerset - a beautiful location in scenic countryside that has been very popular in recent years.
The keynote speaker, Dr Joyce Miller, is an outstanding speaker and member of the new Religious Education Commission (see biography in 2017 Conference). There will also be a presentation by Dr Ian Jamison, Head of Education and Training at the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, on the work of the Foundation, as well as various workshops.
We understand from Paul Pettinger of the Accord Award that they have received several applications for the Inclusive SACRE Award. NASACRE always welcomes information about interesting and innovative work that can be shared with others so please let us know your successes.