Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Portsmouth 2017 with Jonathan Doyle

Jonathan and me via Jonathan's Twitter

I was fortunate to be invited to Portsmouth Diocese during a week of talks by Jonathan Doyle. On Monday 20th March 2017, I travelled down to St Jude’s Catholic Primary School in Fareham.

Jonathan is an internationally renowned speaker on Catholic education. He has spoken to over 300,000 Catholic teachers to date, 400 schools sign up to his weekly formation programme and he has produced a wide variety of resources to help Catholic teachers. These are my notes on his presentation. They hopefully reflect the meaning and spirit of his work, but they are my notes and interpretation.

  • Cynicism, burnout and exhaustion are sadly a key feature in all schools. How do we ensure our teachers keep turning up?
  • It is not surprising as we spend all day dealing with people, getting blamed for stuff… teachers are on the front line.
  • However, every teacher has their first day; no teacher starts off cynical, exhausted and hating what they do! (Jonathan spoke about how his dad had a job that he hated all his life)
  • Even if you don’t feel it, someone you know does. And you probably know about it.
  • Mother Teresa spent her life on the front line - she didn’t only survive, she thrived!

The Simple Equation:  The demands and complexity in teaching will continue to increase; time and energy are finite
  • In education, your job is only going to get harder; it will get more complex, more demanding, more pressured, greater expectations, new initiatives.
  • As our culture loses sight of God, people become more aspirational about material things - they want more stuff! More education, leads to more money, and therefore more material gains - or so people believe.
  • Where will better and better outcomes come from? Where will we find this energy? Especially as our primary vocation with a family, as a mother or father, son or daughter, also continue to place demands on us.

In Australia, only 5% of students from Catholic schools step into a church within a year of graduating. There is nothing compelling enough happening in Catholic schools to make students want to keep going to church. These schools have good outcomes, producing good young people… but government schools can do that just as well. Have we failed our mission? Why do Catholic schools still exist?

Jonathan spoke about a Catholic-based sex education talk he and his wife gave in a Catholic school and the Principle pointed out that theirs was “just one story”. If we present the Catholic story as simply one among many, we are failing in our responsibility to present an authentic Catholic vision. If you don't agree with it, why are you doing it?

The 3 Objectives of Catholic Schools
Pope Paul VI said in Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975), “The Catholic Church does not have a mission; she is a mission.” We do not belong to a Church that ‘looks for things to do’, such as education; Jesus certainly didn’t say at the Ascension, ‘Make sure you create big, complex institutions’. There is simply a Body of Christ. We cannot separate our mission from this; quite simply we are looking to bring people into a relationship with God. Therefore…

  • Objective 1: To create disciples - If students have an encounter with the real and living person of Christ, they will want to have a relationship with him in an ongoing way. The school needs to ask,  how effectively are we creating an example of Jesus? Or at least, how are we creating the context to allow that to happen? Catholic teachers in the school must be living catechisms… no student is going to ask to borrow a catechism to read! Yet a good Catholic teacher can be a catechism, a book that is lived out. If students do not see that Jesus matters to us, there he won’t matter to them - “set yourself on fire, and the world will come and see you burn!”
  • Objective 2: Integral Formation - “Christ is the foundation of the educational enterprise in a Catholic school… The fact that in their own individual way all members of the school community shares this Christian vision makes the school.” (The Catholic School 1977) - a school with 10% Catholic teachers is different to one with 25% or 50%. Integral formation is not just an evangelical mission; students have a wide variety of gifts and talents (music, art, athletics etc) and these must be fostered by the teachers in the school. All those little moments where you give help, guidance and encouragement are vital in this too. Be proud of using the best teaching methods and most effective pedagogies as you are helping in this formation. “The integral formation of the human person, which is the purpose of education, includes the development of all the human faculties of the students, together with preparation for professional life, formation of ethical and social awareness, becoming aware of the transcendental, and religious education.” (Lay Catholic in Schools: Witness to Faith 1982)
  • Objective 3: Philosophical Anthropology - This means to form an authentic Catholic vision of the human person, the person created “in the image and likeness of God” - what you think a person is, will determine how you treat people. Jesus went to Calvary for the person you like the least, the person that annoys you the most. Catholic schools are quite good at social justice, good at being nice… but have we lost our Christology? When our young people go into business or marriage, how will they treat people?

Tools and Fuels - Jonathan’s new book
Jonathan is an obsessive cyclist but one day, for the first time, he didn’t finish a race. It had 3 hills. On the first, he didn’t set up his gears correctly, then for the second he didn’t hydrate properly… and ended up calling his wife to pick him up. He had the wrong tools, and the wrong fuel.

We can’t do a big task with the wrong tools and wrong fuels.

Generally speaking, we have the right tools; our pedagogy is good. Most teachers can teach, even with the impending budget cuts, they will be able to deliver a lesson. Our fundamental problem is our fuel.

The 2nd Equation: You cannot do a supernatural task, with just natural resources
  • How do we survive? Do we just keep trying harder? Are we just “people of goodwill”? (Saint Pope John Paul II) Do we just rely on our personal effort, energy and psychological strength? You cannot out muscle a system that will just expect more and more.
  • John 15 outlines a personal and intimate exchange between people that knew each other well: Jesus and his disciples. He makes it clear, “apart from me, you can do nothing” (15:5) - either he is right? Or we are right - and he is wrong? Was Jesus joking? Metaphorical? There is nothing to suggest this; it is direct.

The Solution: All you have to do is become a saint.

  • The only thing that will fix this and allow you discharge your vocation is become a saint - the ultimate suffering is to not become a saint!
  • The Pre-Vatican II Church was a manual focused, teaching people to be holy through a list of ‘do’s and ‘do not’s. Holiness was only for a subset, the bishops, monsignors, cardinals etc.
  • Jonathan’s dad used to say, “If I can just sneak in the back…”
  • Vatican II gave the Church a universal call to holiness. It is for everyone. Sanctity is for everyone. It is heresy to claim that it is just for a subset!
  • The Catholic Church does not make saints, it simply recognises them - we often have an association with the Saints in our stained glass windows, hands together, not having any fun.
  • There are a great variety of Saints: St Augustine had an illegitimate child, St Mary of Egypt was a prostitute - to be a saint, you need to have really lived! God is not looking for people who “creep” through life.
  • God is able to help strip away everything that isn't you - your projections, your fears - this is when we begin to understand sainthood.
  • Life shifts - we stop doing certain things in our lives because we want to give, love and contribute - we recognise we are in love, and when you are in love, you believe you can change the world.

Our Vocation: Called to be saints
  • Primary Vocation - This is the modality of life: married, single, priesthood etc - we need to be asking how can I be a better husband/wife/father? How can I love them better. Often the things that you resist are what God wants most for you. God comes disguised as you life! “Do I love my wife as Christ loves the Church?”
  • Secondary Vocation - This is the work you do. This creates a paradigm shift… but whatever Jesus did he elevated. He worked, but he didn’t have to. Work is a good thing; through our work, God makes us holy. When you say the one word that a child needs to hear, it is important to remember that nothing you do will go unnoticed. Our society and culture allows these things to go unnoticed, but God does not.

The Venerable Solanus Casey
He was one of a family of 11 from Chicago. He worked as prison guard, train conductor… but wanted desperately to be a priest. He was kicked out of seminary for not being bright enough. Eventually the Franciscans gave him another chance, and after some time became a simplex priest - he could not perform public ministry. He was given the job of sitting in the front room of the Franciscan house and answering the door to guests. He let them in and made small talk until the person they had come to see was ready.

He spent 22 years doing this.

However he developed a supernatural gift of listening, he heard “the deepest wounds of the heart”, and miracles began to happen as he prayed with people.

All he did in life was the one simple thing asked of him, open the door.

The Solution Continued
  • The way is a person.
  • Others will devise systems or programmes…
  • The only thing that will do it, is trying to be saints.

The Path of Dependence
  • The sun will come up tomorrow - will you rely on you or will you reply on Christ?
  • A real person who rose from the dead, will give you supernatural capacity to become most fully what you already are.
  • We can rarely beat problems on our own.
  • God’s grace builds on our very nature.
  • We need to learn a path of dependence on God and realise that we cannot do this with God

How do we practically do this?
  1. Return to the sacraments
    • We need a deep desire to be with Jesus in the Eucharist, the “source and summit”. The Saints all know this, it grants a supernatural grace.
    • Our students often do go, because we don't go - you cannot give what you don't possess; you cannot share grace you do not have.
    • In Eucharistic adoration we can say “I am here, I am going to keep coming”
  2. Return to prayer
    • We need to give time to God - can we find 10 minutes?
    • Pray for your students
    • Find a chapel, do you pass a church? Can you come in 5 minutes earlier?
  3. Return to an encounter with scripture
    • This is how God will most likely speak to us

We may end up cranky, anxious, depressed and exhausted as teachers. How can we not only survive but thrive? By being saints.

As Jonathan says, “the Catholic Church has the best product, but worst marketing department.”

I'd like to thank Edmund Adamus, Professional Advisor to the Episcopal Vicar for Education/Schools Commissioner in Portsmouth Diocese, for the invite.

I'd also like to say a huge thanks to Jonathan Doyle for his generous and inspiring witness - it was well worth a 2hr+ journey each way to hear what he had to say (and he had come from Australia, so that kind of beats my journey!)

I hope my notes are useful; “The hand is the conjoined instrument of the mind” (St Thomas Aquinas)

Further Questions

Upon reflection on this, I will be blogging more on some of the ideas here. Questions that have already come up in my mind are...

  • How does this help our non religious colleagues / colleagues from other faiths?
  • How does it enable us to help our non religious colleagues / colleagues from other faiths?
  • How do we best deal with resistance to these ideas?

Portsmouth 2017 - Day 2

Jonathan filmed his second talk of the week. This covers some similar themes, but also introduces and touches upon some other key ideas. I recommend Catholic teachers everywhere to watch:

Jonathan also features on the ARC website with some videos on Theology of the Body for teachers. View <here>

Tuesday, 28 February 2017


"[Dylan] Wiliam’s central point: multiple choice questions can be made to be extremely difficult and challenging, and they can certainly test higher-order learning objectives." Daisy Christodoulou on Principled Assessment Design by Dylan Wiliam

Since moving to a 'Google school', while already being a convert, I have been using GoogleForms extensively since they introduced their new 'quizzing' feature. MCQs that prompt the revisiting of key words, ideas and knowledge can only be a good thing, right?


These are self marking. You can create a copy of the quiz, set via GoogleClassroom and then copy and paste results into your mark book (in GoogleSheets of course!). I am working on a system for students to record in their books - they often forget! (Does this matter? For whom are they writing in their books? Ofsted...?)

Spaced Learning

All tests are available on our department website (see <here>) we are ensuring regular retrieval practice, and using principles of distributed practice. I am introducing a "Quiz Master" - I will pick a quiz at random each week, the last student who has completed that quiz will get a prize (chocolate).

Informing Planning

I can get insights into what my students know, and what they don't. For example, so far, it is clear they know exactly where Moses received the 10 Commandments, but not the book containing the 613 Mitzvot. This is can be used as a indicator of what areas to focus on. Over time, this could be far more focused. It could also inform what to put on assessments, knowing students will have to review after the test and 'fill the gaps'.

What next for students?

Unlike feedback based on prose, MCQs give instant feedback on what they don't know. They can look up what they got wrong and redo the test. I've found students hate getting less than 10 and will often redo over and over until they get 10.

MCQ Problems
  • Clearly they can't assess everything.
  • They are time consuming to produce (but can be used over and over)
  • Good MCQ are hard to write - there is no point in 'silly' answers
Further reading on MCQs by Daisy Christodoulou

I have set up all quizzes on our website as being for our students only - they need to be logged in. This is because I want to have data on just my pupils, and so I can see who has completed them! I am sharing a sample here:
I aim to write quizzes for all sections of the new GCSE RS spec (Catholic Christianity, Judaism and P&E Edexcel) and A-Level (Edexcel Philosophy, Ethics and NT). I am willing to share with people who wish to genuinely collaborate.

Forget Me Not: New GCSE Planning

The new GCSE courses gives us an opportunity to implement more of what we know about how memory works. Even last year, the homework I set for Y11 were tests on Y10 material. A colleague commented that I never set homework based on the work they were doing currently. I asked how they proposed, that a student doing a two year course, would have frequently revisited the material covered 18+ months ago. Her reply was, "I've never thought about it like that."

The Traditional Syllabus (8 units like old and new GCSE in RS)

Study topic A
Test topic A - Give a Working At Grade (WAG) based on study and then immediate test of A
Study topic B
Test topic B - Give a new WAG based on study and then test then immediate test of B, possibly somewhat averaged with A
Study topic C 
Test topic C- Give a new WAG based on study and then test then immediate test of C, possibly somewhat averaged with A/B
Study topic D
Test topic D- Give a new WAG based on study and then test then immediate test of D, possibly somewhat averaged with A/B/C
Y10 Mock - Wonder why student grade doesn't really fit with others WAGs... especially as their results were inconsistent across topics?

Study topic E
Test topic E
Study topic F
Test topic F
Y11 Mock - Often result well below other WAGs... it's the mock what do you expect?
Study topic G
Test topic G
Study topic H
Test topic H
Actual GCSE exam

Topic A was studied in September/October 2015. It was tested in October 2015, June 2016, December 2016 and then in the final GCSE. In many respects this is a reasonable number of revisits.

A New System (2016 onwards)

Study topic A
Test topic A
Study topic B
Test topic A
Study topic C
Test topic A and B
Study topic D
Test topic B and C
Y10 Mock - Test A/B/C/D

Study topic E
Test topic A and D
Study topic F
Test topic B and E
Y11 Mock 
Study topic G
Test topic C and F
Study topic H
Test topic G and H
Actual GCSE exam

Topic A was studied in September/October 2016. It was revisited (via testing) 6 times in the lead up to the actual GCSE (the 7th test).


All units are worth equal marks in the exam, however, some units are worth more in their value to answering other questions. For exam, the key concepts in Topic A (Catholic Beliefs and Teachings) underpin everything else - there is no way I want students to not be familiar with Imago Dei, Creation, Trinity, Incarnation, eschatology. If there is something I want revisiting 6 or 7 times, it is this.


All units are not equally difficult for students. For example, our current students have not studied Judaism since Year 8 (now moved to Year 9) and never at the level we are expecting at GCSE, I feel we need to revisit Judaism more regularly in order they learn key new terminology. 


The above proposed model is flexible. I need to pinpoint which topics need greater revisits. This will determine what is tested when.

Is that it?

No. I am creating multiple choice quizzes (see <here>) and encouraging - with prizes! - for students to do these regularly. GoogleForms also allows me to see where common misconceptions and gaps in knowledge are... for individuals, classes, the year group. The Learning Scientist principles are also being shared with students (see <here>). I am also looking at ways of sharing my understanding of memory with my department. 

How about A-Level?

The huge volume of content at A-Level also demands differing teaching techniques in RS. I have MCQ for 6th form which we do regularly via Socrative and GoogleForms. I admit there is much more work to do here!


While acknowledging learning and progress are not neat, tidy and linear this requires adaptive planning. We can plan for a test, but I will need to adapt that test to our needs. It may be that I need to redo tests next year. It may be that different classes need different tests. I also aim to create a full mark scheme for all tests so the following lesson is dedicated to redrafting, 'green pen work' and covering any gaps.

There is a real danger that you create excessive marking. In an ideal world, you could test all content at every test opportunity and it make assessments genuinely cumulative - but this is far too much marking. Selecting key things to test, knowing that review work will be done, will be vital.


The reason I am implementing this to my department is:

  1. More accurate WAGs  - although who knows if our grade boundaries are in any way accurate
  2. Greater use of the principles of spaced learning
  3. Allowing more 'forgetting time' (not testing topic just studied where content may have only be taught the previous lesson!)
  4. Increased learning, not just 'doing' - what is the point of ensuring you cover the content but not ensure the students have learnt key concepts?
  5. Knowledge to underpin skills - the most common reason for not being able to attempt longer essay questions is a lack of knowledge. The quizzes focus on this.
I welcome feedback.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Thursday, 23 February 2017

CoRE: Evidence Presentation

On Thursday 23rd February 2017, I was able to speak at an evidence gathering session for the Commission on Religious Education (see <here>). This is not the view of the Commission; it is my own personal view. Here is a copy of my script:

2017 sees an unprecedented moment of change for secondary RE teachers: 
  • New GCSE
  • New A-Level
  • Life After Levels
  • Potential revamp of KS3
It is also worth asking the question - What will this mean for Primary RE?

I believe a fundamental problem in RE is the fact our aims and purpose are not clear.

Some see RE as a 'special' part of the curriculum, others a ‘safe space’, or a place where there is time for lots of personal opinion, somewhere there is no right or wrong answers . 

However - we are not the only subject that looks at 'big questions' and it should not be the only place for SMSC, Community Cohesion, PHSE, Citizenship and British Values - this colonisation has been allowed and even encouraged in the search for legitimacy, higher profile and curriculum time.

The decision to not include RS in the Ebacc has been damaging - but when teachers were able to deliver the previous GCSE in half the time of other GCSEs, is it any wonder? However, there have then been many complaints that new specs are too academic - and contain too much religion! Perhaps our subject has seen one of the biggest shifts in the new reforms? This undoubtedly requires support for RE teachers.

For me, the subject may well provide the 'other' development (personal, spiritual, moral, ethical, philosophical etc), yet at its core, needs to be an academic, rigorous, critical subject that teaches about religion and NRWVs. It should be more knowledge focused, enabling students to develop skills that will be useful for a lifetime. The ‘other’ development is important, and something I believe all teachers in all subjects have a part to play in ensuring students receive.

If there is to be legal change, it first and foremost needs to be the right to remove. The current situation indicates that what we are delivering is still RI, not RS. This may necessarily lead to a further change in the law regarding the compulsion to study it. This law has served RE well, but for the long term future of the subject, do we want to survive by being forced upon students? Can we survive by own merits?

I honestly believe RE is one of the subjects that has changed the most since the parents of our students were at school. Many schools have thriving RE departments with large numbers, even where it is an option. They lead on T&L and are well supported by SLT. I believe this is something for all to strive towards. 

Too much time is wasted on the ‘name of RE’ debate, again another search for legitimacy. My favourite is still Culture, Religion and Philosophy - it was only when the head of CRaP had his name badge printed that he realised an error had been made! We can call the subject what we like, but actually it is defined by what happens on a daily basis in the classroom. 

The great diversity of RE syllabuses is still celebrated by some, I’ve always found it impossible to find out exact numbers, but potentially anything up to 150 LASs. It’s hard to continue to argue the case for local determination - surely if something is good enough for students in one area, it is good enough for the next area, which in London might be another school just 100m down the road. Some argue there is a financial interest in keeping LASs - people are employed to do the writing every 5 years. It is worth noting some have had new LASs this year on top of new GCSE and A-Level - avoidable? At the heart of this, could this time, money and effort be better spent supporting RE teachers in the classroom towards a more universal RE curriculum?

If RE teachers were working towards something more centralised it would be far easier to share resources; an opportunity that the internet has offered in an incredible way. It would also allow RE teachers to move from one school to another and not have to learn and resource a whole new KS3 syllabus! Primary specialists could continue to be specialists, even in a different local authority. Currently RE teachers can get away with teaching what they want, how they want and then assessing how they want. Is there any real comparability before GCSE?

Save RE is a Facebook group that sums up what I frequently refer to as 'the Good, the Bad and the Ugly' of RE and it may be worth the Commission spending time looking at some of the threads on there. Some frequent issues that come up:
  • Lack of parental support - including parents wanting to withdraw, refusal to go on schools trips to Mosques etc
  • Lack of curriculum time - especially for the demands of the new GCSEs, some trying to deliver in an hour a week still
  • Lack of specialists - sometimes including the head of RE, linked to lack of subject specific provision of CPD, INSET etc (especially in school hours)
  • Lack of clear department teams - sometimes there is a head of RE with 8 or 9 non-specialist teachers doing 1 or 2 lessons each (and the workload this creates)
  • Lack of resources - especially for certain GCSE and A-Levels options, timescales imposed by DfE made resource publication for the start of courses impossible
  • Lack of guidance and advice - especially in 1 person departments
  • School refusal to follow statutory guidance - also confusion about law given academies, free schools etc
  • Burden of Citizenship, PHSE, British Values etc
However this group also highlights the huge inconsistency of what goes on in classrooms. Again there is some great stuff - and I would direct you to the blog of Dawn Cox ( for some of the best thinking on curriculum design and assessment in RE, often shared on Save RE - but there are ideas that have divided the 5000+ members: studying the Illuminati, holocaust cake baking, churches made of biscuits and “the crucifixion jelly hand” being some of the most controversial examples in my own personal memory. 

Some RE teachers spent June last year covering the murder of Jo Cox and the shooting at the Orlando nightclub. Both interesting topics, but when you only have an hour a week, is the 'teach what you like’ culture not damaging to the subject? Would these not be better covered in form time? Our search for relevance and engagement can be deeply damaging - and confusing - for students

(The above was shared with Commissioners as what I consider a good example of engagement and relevance)

The online community of RE teachers shows exactly what a “broad church” we are. There is great value in this, but also notes of concern. I strongly urge the Commission to get into as many schools as possible - and not just those who are vocal on social media and in existing RE circles. Perhaps find schools that wouldn’t normally extend an invite because they are under pressure and struggling? Find out why.

The GCSE Annex has provided a clear benchmark for RE. All specs needed to ensure this content was covered. As this has been put together by faith communities and curriculum experts, does it not make sense to transpose this document down to KS3 and primary? Even for faith schools with their own RE curriculum, this could provide a useful bench-marking tool.

RE has the potential to be a key and important part of every school’s curriculum. RE teachers are often up against it for a variety of reasons. How can we all work together to best use our time, money, effort, energy and resources to ensure every child in this country receives the best possible education in RE?

Friday, 17 February 2017

Does religion have a place in the modern curriculum?

This was my unsuccessful application for TEDxNorwichEd 2017. Obviously if it ever got anywhere close to being an actual TEDx talk, it would be a lot more refined and polished. Just thought it was still an "idea worth sharing", even in it's current application form state:

The Quick Pitch (50 words):

Many claim we live in a largely secular society, many claim their students are no longer religious - and as a result - some suggest surely it is time to remove religion from schools? 

However, I'd argue exactly  the opposite.

More than ever, current and future generations need to know more about religion rather than less. They need to be inspired to discover more about the driving force which has influenced, and continues to influence, billions worldwide. Neglecting this would be catastrophic.

A Brief Outline (400 words):

What other subject comes under as much scrutiny as RE? Why did the GCSE content 'annex' have to be approved by the Prime Minister himself? How does it sit as such a peculiarity: a legal compulsion, but locally determined? Part of the 1988 Education Act, but not part of the National Curriculum?

It is often a subject that polarises students, parents and teachers... love it or hate it?

I'd argue that the fact that we may be an increasingly secular society is irrelevant. I'd argue that the fact that less students in our classes are clearly defined as religious is irrelevant. 

The study of religion needs to be reclaimed from PHSE, Citizenship, British Values, the Community Cohesion agenda etc and return to a subject that can inspire future generations by helping them better understand the past, present and most likely (and perhaps most crucially), the future.

There is history, politics, philosophy, geography, poetry, music, literature and much more involved, but the study of religion and beliefs remains fundamental in understanding all of the above, and more. Omission from the Ebacc has done damage to the study of religion, but how else can students comprehend the complex world that surrounds them. People still live and die for their faith.

  • How can they understand why some Muslim women wear the burqa (and why this is can be a problem)?
  • How can they understand why Jews don't eat pork?
  • How can they understand that a knowledge of the bible is fundamental to understanding the English language and culture? [And why Richard Dawkins agrees on this in the God Delusion]
  • How can they understand why Sikhs are allowed to carry a sword?
  • How can they understand why Hindus believe in reincarnation (and what this means for the way they live their life)?

Oddly those who argue for the removal of religion from the classroom, are often experts in the field. We cannot allow future generations to be deprived of this privilege. To be a truly great future generation, we need to enable students to understand more, rather than less - and I firmly
believe the study of religion plays a really important role in this wider education. We need to inspire the future generation to be more peaceful, respectful, understanding and tolerant - yet challenging when necessary... we  should not respect or tolerate all beliefs. This will not coming by removing religion from the curriculum.

Is study of religion really as dangerous and indoctrinating as some claim, or is it simply a vital tool to help inspire a generation to better understand the world going on around them?

Maybe I'll try for TEDxNorwichEd 2019 with something a little less controversial...  "You should never speak about religion or politics."

Image courtesy: 

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

When do we start the GCSE in RS?

Key Stage 3 Religious Education is largely unregulated, just like most other Key Stage 3 subjects. I obviously don't mean internally, or by SLT, or by Ofsted, but since the removal of Year 9 SATs (which only concerned a small number of subjects), the first external examination of a child's achievement in secondary school comes 5 years in, as a GCSE.

The new GCSE specs, across the board, are more rigorous, academic, challenging and content filled. I think this, in the main, is a good thing. However it poses some serious questions for teachers and schools. When do we start the GCSE course?

Some of the options:
  1. Keep the status quo - GCSEs are designed as a two year course, therefore they should be teachable in the given time frame, as long as you are given sufficent hours in the week (and some RE teachers have not in the past).
  2. Erase Year 9 - Start the GCSE a year early, giving over 50% more time. This caused problems with new specs as they were not finalised until late in the 2015-2016 academic year when some had been teaching since September 2015.
  3. Shorten Year 9 - Start the GCSE at some definable point such as January or after the Easter holidays. 
  4. Start in Year 7?

Now some subjects lend themselves to less definable start points - some have suggested the Maths GCSE starts in pre-school and just builds and builds... likewise with English. Academies with the freedom to not teach the National Curriculum have tweaked current schemes of work and assessments to work towards the new GCSE with little issue.

As always RE is more complex with it's local determination, Locally Agreed Syllabuses, faith school curriculum option etc. However my aim as a Subject Leader is to try balance our offering to students. I feel there is much to be achieved in Key Stage 3, building a strong foundation for the GCSE by covering a range of topics - and crucially for us - covering other religions. 

The choices I have made are as follows:
  • To modify assessments to ensure students focus on knowing key information from their units of study.
  • To modify assessments to ensure greater literacy and essay writing skills with longer answer questions, aligned with the structure of GCSE questions.
  • To introduce terminology such as SoWA (Sources of Wisdom and Authority) into lessons and tasks. 
I feel this is a compromise. It feels like you are doing students disservice by either getting rid of Key Stage 3... yet also a disservice by ignoring the demands of the GCSE which (as a Catholic school) they will all sit.

What are you doing?

Year 7 Assessment SAMPLE [You can view only via GoogleDrive]
SoWA (Sources of Wisdom and Authority) Poster [You can view only via GoogleDrive]

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Monday, 6 February 2017

Battle for Ideas 2016: Religious Education in a Secular Age [Video]

Back in October, I was invited to speak at the Institute of Idea's 'Battle of Ideas' at the Barbican. At the time, I posted some of my notes (see <here>) which were kindly listed in Schools Week's blogs of the week by Andrew Old (see <here>). It has finally made it to YouTube!

Watch the entire debate here [57mins]:

Alternatively just watch my contributions here:

It was a fantastic experience and I look forward to working again with the team at the Institute of Ideas, particularly those in the Education Forum.