Thursday, 4 December 2014

Bad RE: Own Up!

Image courtesy of Deadline

"Religious studies teaching is pathetic – either improve it, or ditch it" reads the headline from Giles Fraser's Guardian column (see <here>) . He describes the subject his children study where "religion is transformed into a calendar of funny festivals, lighting candles and distinctive headgear". RE teachers either recoiled in horror at the sensationalist attack on their profession, or quietly admitted that actually we could, and need to, be better.

"Bad RE" fascinates me. I've seen it too many times, it makes me laugh, but it also makes me want to cry. A subject that could be so exciting, interesting,  relevant and topical can too often become boring, dull, superficial and, as Fraser suggests, 'glorified colouring in'. I regularly worry about the opportunity cost of teaching ideas I see on Twitter, Save RE (on Facebook), TES and even in published resources. If you only have an hour a week, can you really afford to be doing 'that'? What exactly is your intended lesson outcome?

However, it is vital that we make it clear that there are plenty of excellent, passionate, interesting, dynamic RE teachers. I have the good fortune to work with them both in my school and with the numerous RE projects I am involved in. It would have been nice of Fraser to better recognise these (but that wouldn't have achieved 400+ comments on the Guardian and such debate on Facebook and Twitter!). Great work has been done and in many schools RE/RS has become high profile, academic and popular. Sometimes this is to the credit of the teachers in spite of GCSE syllabi (and it's why I have got myself so involved in the RE consultation, to make RE better!). 

Yet are we really naive enough to claim that RE is all great and has no room for improvement? Who are we protecting and defending to take this stance? I very much hope that for every outraged RE teacher there is a classroom over flowing with the great RE I have highlighted above. However, it is also entirely possible that Fraser hit a nerve because deep down, we know that the examples he highlighted are possibly still happening in classrooms. Maybe the most outraged felt guilty as they knew they are selling their students short? Controversial claims I am fully aware.

The GCSE and A-Level need to be improved because RE needs to be improved, Ofqual are trying to ensure this. It was with a saddened (but accepting) heart that I read Andrew Smith's tweet:

Maybe it's too easy due to circumstances? If teachers need to deliver a GCSE in 1 hour a week compared to 4/5 for other subjects, of course something needs to give. Maybe it's because we have gone down a route where we end up doing too much PHSE / sociology / anthropology / community cohesion / 'British Values' type stuff? Remember this is not my view that GCSE RS is too easy. Read away at the #REconsult blog <here>, many seem to make the claim.

In 2013, RE Today published a APPG report indicating a lack of subject specialist knowledge, training, timetable time (see <here>). There have been further reports and articles widely published indicating too many poor activities and not enough rigour and challenge. Is what Fraser is saying anything really new to the RE community?

After the outrage discussed in the Save RE group on Facebook, Giles Fraser posted this:

He is clear that Bad RE needs to be challenged. Why is that so hard for some in the RE community to accept? We must have the confidence to admit our subject is not as great as it could be, but we have the potential to change that, we really do.

Fraser concludes, "RS lessons could be a tool for helping children to do precisely that: to think, to question, to argue. It could be a place where the adolescent philosophy of “that’s just my personal opinion” is challenged and moved on. It could be a place where children begin to discover why it is that some will live and die for their belief."

Let's be the ones to ensure that happens.

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