Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Religious Literacy [RC]

Image from The Way textbook from TERE

Religious literacy is the knowledge of, and ability to understand, religion. (source <here>)

There remains many a debate about the purpose of RE. Is it simply imparting knowledge? Is it empowering students to tackle the big questions? Is it developing 'spirituality'? Is it teaching them what it means to be human? Is it something else?

For Catholic RE, there is an agreed purpose and aim outlined for us in the Curriculum Directory:

"The outcome of excellent Catholic religious education 'is religiously literate young people who have the knowledge, understanding and skills - appropriate to their age and capacity- to think spiritually, ethically and theologically, and who are aware of the demands of religious commitment in everyday life'." (Curriculum Directory 1996;p10; 2012 p6)

Things I like about this:
  • The coherent order of: knowledge followed by understanding, and then skills. There are some in the RE world who go straight for skills without ensuring the first two key things are addressed. 
  • Spirituality, ethics and theology are core components of RE and key to understanding any religion and belief. I would personally like to see the addition of "philosophically" in there too though.
  • It highlights the key aspect of 'lived out' faith, the reality of the world in which the students exist. This is the right kind of engagement and relevance (not using Outlaw RE).
Is it perfect? I've already highlighted one thing I'd change. I'd also probably try to raise standards by saying "at minimum, at a level appropriate to their age and capacity" - although that becomes a little wordy! I just worry that sometimes we sell students short in what we deliver to them. Does anyone else have an agreed aim for RE? Would such a thing every be universally agreed?

This blog post was generated by a concern of the religious literacy of some Y7 students. "On paper", we have nearly 100% of students are practising Catholic (Y7 to Y11). However, like many Catholic schools, we realise that regular parish Mass attendance for students is significantly lower. This is one of the real challenges for the Catholic school. Some, such as Michael Merrick would argue this is a reason to reduce the number of Catholic schools (read more <here>) and other bloggers such as Mark Lambert have considered the relationship of Catholicity and Catholic schools (read more <here>).

A starter activity was set to start looking at the Church as it looks today, after previously studying Salvation History in the OT, fulfilment of Prophecy in the NT, Jesus' Messiahship and the growth of the early Church from Jerusalem to Rome. The questions were the ones at the top of this blog post. The result was my classroom in confused chaos. Some of the questions and comments:

  • "Which Pope? Peter? John Paul II? Do we have a new one?"
  • "What is a Diocese?"
  • "I've looked up Diocese in the Glossary, but it just means nothing to me."
  • "Canterbury! They have an Archbishop."
  • "Bishop... Thomas!" [He was our former Bishop]
  • "How's a parish priest? Is this different to a normal priest?" [A valid question if referring to Religious Communities perhaps. I don't think they were.]
  • "What's a parish again?"
  • "The church I was baptised in? I don't know, I never go there."
  • "We don't go to church any more."
  • "It's called Mary Mother of God. Who was she?"
It was a stark reminder that core knowledge cannot be taken for granted, even about the basics of personal faith in a Catholic school; I suddenly panicked that I had left this until April! Our previous syllabus, ICONS did address this in it's first unit, but I am by no means advocating a move back to it (there was a real knowledge deficit in the entire KS3 ICONS syllabus). However, I am thinking that there needs to be something to address this type of religious literacy early on. I do not want to blame Primary school teachers as I am absolutely sure they had been taught this information, but that for some reason it had not 'stuck'.

Catholic RE can be academic, demanding and rigorous, but also, in part, confessional. Understanding of self is vital to confessional aspects of RE as students are given the knowledge and understanding, but also the space, to decide upon their place within the Church. All Catholics are called to evangelise though the example of their lives, but that does not involve proselytising, especially in the RE classroom (just the thought of this makes me feel at unease).

I am a real advocate for knowledge to empower students in RE. Jonathan Porter has recently written about how at his school they address Biblical literacy in Y7 as a foundation to studying Judaism, Christianity and Islam (read <here>). I feel there is some real value in this and it is why I am pleased with many aspects of our new KS3 syllabus (The Way, The Truth and The Life, see <here>) as there is a lot more scripture and knowledge-based content.

It's interesting that even Richard Dawkins sees the value of this religious literacy and points out in the God Delusion 129 biblical phrases that English speakers may use and not realise their provenance. They include: the salt of the earth; go the extra mile; I wash my hands of it; filthy lucre; through a glass darkly; wolf in sheep’s clothing; hide your light under a bushel; no peace for the wicked; how are the mighty fallen. (See <here>)

There are calls in the 'Other World' of RE, i.e. not the Catholic one, for a core or National Curriculum in RE where there can be more specified content, with a focus on higher level knowledge. Neil McKain has recently written about it for RE:Online (see <here>). I am reasonably happy with the aim we are working towards in Catholic RE. What do you think?

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Curriculum & Controversy: RE

I have the absolute privilege to be leading a session at this forthcoming conference:

A learning symposium about teaching RE in the current educational climate and networking opportunity for teachers of RE - open to all teachers (not just Teach First trained teachers)

My session will be the Future of RE. Much of my thinking on this will come from a Culham St Gabriel's Thinking Day. There is a lot on Twitter if you follow the #rethinkRE tag <here>.

The RE Thinking Days: #rethinkRE

Day 1 in March 2015, featured a lot of discussion, sharing of ideas... and arguing! It was clear there would be no clear agreement or consensus from the RE community. Our final task of the conference was to try and write a prospective OFSTED subject report for 2020, giving a broad overview of what was good and what needed further attention. At the end of the day our notes were all collected and two reports created. I quote Neil McKain's summaries:

  • Report A argued for a core National Curriculum document providing clear guidance as to the key/core knowledge all students in all kinds of schools should be expected to know from KS1- KS3. The annexes for the new GCSE and A Level specs have already set out the knowledge required for KS4/5.
  • Report B argued against a national curriculum and wished to reform and improve the current local determination.
This highlights just one of the key divisions in current thinking. Some of the key areas of thinking were the following and I will be exploring these further in my session:
  • The Purpose of RE
  • SACRE/LAS vs a core or national curriculum (and the problems this potentially creates)
  • RE vs SMSC/British Values/Community Cohesion
  • Primary vs Secondary
  • Knowledge vs Skills 
Neil McKain has written a blog post for RE:Online about our groups discussion on Day 2 and it is a worth while read in it's entirety <here>.

Book your FREE tickets <here>

Monday, 27 April 2015

Resourcing NEW GCSE / A-Level RS

Image courtesy of Geograph

From 2016 there will be a new GCSE and a new A-Level in Religious Studies. Both will look dramatically different to everything in existence at the moment. Over the last few weeks, there have been conversations happening about what resources people will need. I have been thinking about this from both a personal and wider professional point of view:

1) What will be my priority to seek out to ensure my own teaching and resources are ready for September 2016?
2) What will be a priority, budget wise, to invest in from a department point of view?

Obviously the other thing that I am considering is that I run a non-profit resources website for Catholic RE that does cover parts of the GCSE and A-Level in RS. I am always wondering what, if any, future the site has? See . I also run the RC Dropbox and A-Level Dropbox - do these have a future? Will they come in to their own as teachers desperately look to share their new resources in exchange for others? Or will more teachers look to create and then sell their resources (cf TES, Sellfy, Resourceasaurus etc) rather than contribute for free? Will many teachers (due to their over-worked, over-stressed lives) remain as takers rather than givers?

Meeting with colleagues, there is a real fear about the new qualifications. There will be more content, and it will be more demanding. Some new topics entirely, and for many, a second religion at GCSE for the first time. The backdrop is an ongoing lack of time and a lack of money. September 2016 will come around very quickly and where there are so many subjects facing exam reform, as well as budget cuts in general (see <here> for more on this), what will RE departments be able to afford?

I began to really think, what is it that I will really want for September 2016. What would relieve the stress and make life easier for me personally?


Days out of school are really tough. Everyone may soon be wanting them... exam boards will be trying to 'woo' us all with their new qualifications (Have you heard about the exciting sounding AQA bus tour?). These will be potentially a whole day off, with travel, to look at the specifications; could you do this 3+ times for each board? It's a vital decision so it makes sense to pick carefully. But then, another day or more for more training once you have picked? More days off to brush up on subject knowledge? Also a key question, will it just be for Heads of Department/Subject Leaders? How/when will they disseminate the information? It may be okay for all these days off if it were just one subject. I can see schools limiting heavily what they allow staff to do. 'Rarely Cover' was well-intentioned but poorly realised.

Evenings and weekends have become more 'popular' with the TeachMeet style CPD as well as an increasingly number of other courses, sessions and conferences (ResearchEd, Pedagoo etc). However how many want to give up their precious evenings and weekends? It is a lot to ask already over worked teachers struggling with a work/life balance.

A compromise that I envisioned at a conference that I recently ran, The London RE Hub, was that we should record all the sessions so that people could watch or listen in their own time. In department meetings / INSET, in their car (audio recordings), in their spare time. It really puts the teacher back in control of their CPD and their work/life balance. You can see what I've tried to build as a legacy <here>. This comes off the back of videoing and sharing things like the Culham St Gabriel's weekend RE TeachMeet <here>, various TeachMeet events, and even CPD sessions that I've run for other schools <here>

Online Resources

These always sound like the future. Some schools have got rid of libraries, they have 1:1 iPads, BYOD, wifi everywhere. On the other hand, I know of plenty of RE teachers who are based in a ‘temporary building/ Portakabin’ without a projector. I also think it is difficult to assume all students have access to a range of tech at home. Provision varies widely. I love technology, but I am still not sure how these are the future of education, in or outside the classroom just yet.


These for me, remain a key to secondary teaching. They provide a body of input that can be relied on for cover, non-specialists, exam practice, textual references etc. I also refer to the textbook more than the specification in order to make sure I have all bases covered. However on the other hand, I don't think I have ever found a textbook that I have loved that has done everything for me. For GCSE, I currently use a mixture of two. They are also expensive.


I often worry about 'death by PowerPoint'. I have also seen so SO many bad PowerPoints; garish colours, silly animations, information overload. 

On the other hand, I realise that these are essentially my lessons plans. The majority of my lessons are sequenced and detailed with my PPTs. They are my guide to the progress and development of the lessons across a unit. However fear not, they are often in a constant state of flux as I change things, (hopefully) improve parts and tasks.

Yet rarely do I just use someone elses. PPTs need to be editable for anyone to make a lesson their own.

Lesson Plans / Schemes of Work

As above really, an outline can be great to see where you need to cover what, but the teacher needs the freedom to use their own strengths, adapting as fit for their own classes.


YouTube has changed teaching. However not all of it is great. I am a massive fan of Andy McMilan (see <here> ) and I hope he remakes videos for the new GCSE and A-Level specs. I am also starting to use other sites such as TrueTube and this often make a great syllabus. I am trying to collate many of my favourites on Students do increasingly expect something professional looking, however they also get a lot of personal videos such as those made by David Webster <here>. Everyone better get busy as soon as the specs are out!


A good worksheet can be hard to beat. A good worksheet takes ages to make...

So, what do you think you will need most with the new GCSE and A-Level RS?

What resources will be most important to you?

Monday, 20 April 2015

Outlaw RE [Think Bomb]

I attended an RE Thinking Day organised by Culham St Gabriel's and I was asked by Mark Chater to plan a 'Thought Bomb' which would engage and energise the participants in the day if the mood got a little flat. We had so much to sort out that we never got the chance. Here are some of the things I was going to say...

What would you outlaw in RE?

Many RE teachers only get 1 hour a week to teach their subject. As a result there needs to be careful consideration, and reflection, on how to use that time. I am lucky to get slightly more time as I work in a Catholic school, but regardless, we never finish the syllabus at Key Stage 3 and finish with just a few lessons to spare at GCSE (as for A-Level, you always need more time!). Time is incredibly precious and there needs to be careful consideration of opportunity cost.

In microeconomic theory, the opportunity cost of a choice is the value of the best alternative forgone, in a situation in which a choice needs to be made between several mutually exclusive alternatives given limited resources. <link>

Sadly time restraints are also coupled with other issues such as 'low enthusiasm' in  RE. There is often a pursuit to make things fun, interesting, relevant and engaging. I fear at times people loose sight of the RE. Lesson objectives are a waste of time for students to be copying, but vital for the teacher, "What RE are you trying to ensure that students learn today?"

Sometimes the RE part gets lost. Really lost.

When discussing this, Daniel Hugill reminded me of this:

I think the two most key things here are the via negativa, what engaging and relevant are not. Sadly this is what sometimes happens.

I decided upon not picking examples that I think are wrong, because actually, everyone does know their own classes best. The teacher is the only one who actually knows if their students are learning or not. It is also a delicate issues as some teachers will spend a lot of time planning such lessons. The key question must be, is this activity genuinely and demonstrably enabling your students to learn and remember things? How do you know? Could you be doing something better with your time?

Some things I would consider making Outlaw RE:

  • Play dough
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Treasure hunts
  • Making masks or costumes
  • Building 'junk' models, particularly of places of worship
  • Drama [it always ends in a fight, even with girls!]
  • Tenuous-link films
  • Word searches [cryptic ones may be useful]
  • Paper aeroplanes
  • Marshmallows and pasta
  • Raps
I am also happy to change my mind on things. I have done many of these in the past, maybe you can convince me why they are still okay for use in the classroom? Perhaps I am growing ever educationally conservative (with a small c) as I continue to teach - after all I found myself nodding along to James Theobold's recent Labour Teachers blog <here> and have been called 'Govian' for being a lover of knowledge!

When you get towards the end of Y11, or Y13, with your classes, you really do realise that time is very limited with them. I need to ask myself, could I have taught them any more? Could I have imparted any more of my wisdom before they go off into the wide world? I am incredibly lucky to have a fantastic education behind me, did I do enough to pass that on? Did I forget that RE is incredibly fascinating in it's own right and that's why I studied it to Masters level? Can I not pass at least some of that on without resorting to non-RE things? Crucially, what am I trying to achieve here... a better knowledge / understanding / skill-set in RE, or how to build things from junk / how to play class clown in drama / treasure hunt 'skills'?

I end with a quote from a favourite film of mine (that I used to, perhaps tenuously, watch in it's entirety with Y9 when we had a small paragraph in a chapter explaining Carpe Diem):

Keating: "Seize the day. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may." Why does the writer use these lines?
Charlie: Because he's in a hurry.

Keating: No. Ding! Thank you for playing anyway. Because we are food for worms, lads. Because, believe it or not, each and every one of us in this room is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold and die. <Source>

Oh and make sure you read David Ashton's RE:online blog on this. Far better than mine, found <here>

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Assessment Without Levels: Catholic RE AWOL

What do you do when your school is moving over to a whole new system of assessing Key Stage 3 students but the directive from the Bishops of England and Wales is that Levels need to stay, certainly for the time being? 
  1. Tell your school leaders that the Bishop's directive supersedes that of the school and keep with Levels in RE despite being the only subject to be doing so?
  2. Find a way that can keep both the school and the Bishop's happy (possibly!)?
Option one is problematic. Many parents still struggle to fully understand Levels, at many parent's evenings a number just ask, "But how are they getting on? Are they about right for Y8?". I usually then give them an estimate of where students should be and usually they are happy. There is already a lot written about Levels, their wrong implementation and use as a tool of assessment and progression. Imagine if you were the one subject left using Levels? Any new system will hopefully be clearer and easier for students and parents to understand, would RE be then left behind? The subject that is the 'core of the core' in a Catholic school would, potentially, be facing a difficult struggle.

We went for option two, or are in the process of trying to. This feels problematic as I feel like I am trying to "please two Masters"; the school (including the students and the parents) and the Bishops. This is not a criticism of the Bishops, as a lot of time and effort was put into the The Religious Education Curriculum Directory (3-19) for Catholic Schools and Colleges. This is designed to provide guidance for the RE classroom curriculum in Catholic schools (see <here>). It is also a key benchmark for any Section 48 inspection.

My school are going for a Required Standard model. Each subject will devise it's own standards and students will then be measured as being Working Towards, Working At or Working Above. Again this is still very much a work in progress and there are still some things to be worked out with this system (Has anyone worked out how a student who spends the whole of Key Stage 3 'Working Towards' is demonstrating progress? Is it enough to say standards are going up so they must be making progress?

I wasn't keen to 'mix and match' statements from the Curriculum Directory, so the tough decision was where to pitch the Required Standards. I decided upon:
  • Y7 - Level 5 criteria
  • Y8 - Level 6 criteria
  • Y9 - Level 7 criteria
Initial feedback from some colleagues was this was too high, but I felt only expecting students to get to L6 by the end of Key Stage 3, particularly when 51% of students got L7 or L8 in RE in 2014 [53% in 2013 and 58% in 2012], was not a high enough expectation. 

This is what the Y7 Required Standards looks like (click to enlarge). We use The,Way, the Truth and The Life syllabus (see <here>) and this is what the units/key words refer to:

This uses the three strands from the Curriculum Directory (although the third is not assessed), and in order that of future Section 48 inspectors can see that we are still referring to the Levels, we have used their criteria word for word. Until there comes a point when this is reviewed or changed, it does seem to make sense to continue to use these. If nothing else, at least it aims for some consistency between Catholic schools.

Our current assessments will need adaptation (see an example of our current assessments <here>) so that there is a clearer example of what these Standards will look like. Also we have been trying to improve consistency across the department over the last few years and this will be important to maintain; this is one reason our percentage of L7 and L8 students have gone down slightly over the last 3 years.

This is most definitely a 'gained time' project for when Y11 and Y13 leave and I full realise there is much work to do in ensuring the best possible system in place for September 2015. Equally, I think there needs to be a realisation that it will take a few years to tweak and perfect. 

Any constructive criticism that can be provided, or things I haven't thought out, would be much appreciated. 

Download our draft document for Key Stage 3 <here>

Saturday, 4 April 2015

"No Magic Beans" - #TMLondon

Apologies - I can't remember who took this and tweeted it to me!

Thank you to everyone who said kind things about my presentation both via Twitter or in person at #TMLondon. It was a great evening and a real privilege to present and share something with the huge number of colleagues in person and online. Here I will outline what I covered:

Listen <Here>

I have written a blog post about what I am doing with KS4 classes which is <here>. I have done with my Y10 year group (I am Head of Y10) and my two Y11 RE classes... "Why has no-one ever told us this before?" some gasped. I am also looking to do a KS3 version ready for their end of year tests. I hope to sow some seeds of though; they're not magic beans though!

Image thanks to Ben Jose

I also hinted at the fact that meta-cognition / cognitive psychology is NOT a magic beans solution. This is something that Carl Hendrick has recently blogged about <here>. As he says, "to my mind there are four areas in education research: philosophy, anthropology, sociology and of course psychology and at the moment I worry that we seem to have hedged all our bets on the latter."

Somehow I also managed to get a reference in from Frank Skinner, my favourite comedian. A few years ago, he discussed how he tries to ensure that his memory doesn't deteriorate with old age by only Googling things he doesn't know, rather than things he doesn't remember. I think this is particularly important when we have the internet often just a button away....

A few people have said they were surprised by the information on my "Hot or Not" slide. This comes from an article from a number of top cognitive psychologists which can be read <here>. A summary is also available in my student booklet <here>.

Finally, if you fancy watching it again (or indeed for the first time). Check out the video below... fast forward to 37mins:

If you want to read more, see these:

Friday, 3 April 2015

Reflections & Thank You - #TMLondon

Image courtesy of Martin Burrett

Firstly, I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone single person who came to TMLondon (again!). There were around 250 in attendance and around 200 were watching online. 450 teachers, in their free time, wanting to learn about being better teachers. That is incredibly powerful and very much 'good news' for the profession. I am disappointed that Nicky Morgan, Tristram Hunt and David Laws didn't accept our invites and come along.

A big thank you goes to every presenter. Due to my "prize man" role on the night, I have not yet caught up on the whole evening yet. Thankfully Leon Cych captured the whole evening and I can watch again in my own time, probably bit by bit! If the tweets and blogs are anything to go by, there is so so much to take from the evening.
I'd also like to say a big thanks to team #TMLondon - Ross, Mark, Di, Amjad and Martin. All people absolutely dedicated to making education better, all in very different ways. Particularly thanks must go to Ross, Alex, Asmy and all the staff and students at QKynaston - a fantastic venue, hosts and the perfect bit of positive PR they needed. Thank you.

This is me taking a selfie in Ross' seat in his office

Our sponsors also need a massive thank you. My table was FULL of prizes to reward those who had given up their free time. There is a list up <here>. There are still some prizes to win... find out how <here>. It meant we had lots of food and drink, lots of goodies to take home plus many went home very happy with some excellent prizes including vouchers, IPEVO cameras, dinner in the Shard, ipods, books, subscriptions and much more! Thank you SO much to all. TMs shouldn't be dependent on sponsors but it is a nice reward for those who give up their own time to come along.

Just some of the prizes

Watch Amjad interview me about #TMLondon here: 

The Blogs of the Hosts
  • Ross McGill, aka TeacherToolkit, reflects <here> - The Greatest CPD Ever! 
  • Mark Anderson, aka ICTEvangelist, reflects <here> - My #TMLondon reflections presentation and thanks
  • Amjad Ali, aka ASTSupportaali, writes <here> - #TMLondon 1/04/15
  • Martin Burrett, aka ICTMagic, took some excellent photos <here> - no doubt reports will appear on UKEdChat soon!
  • I have also written a new blog based on my presentation <here>
More Blogs
Please email any further blogs to - if you would like to be considered for a specific prize mention that too! Full details <here> 

Me with all you lovely, lovely people

Thursday, 2 April 2015

#TMLondon - Blogs & Prizes

Image courtesy of TeacherToolkit

Thank you all so much for coming! As one of the organisers, I was genuinely humbled by the kind words from those at the event and online; it was very much appreciated. However, it does end yet...

We still have THREE prizes to award:

1 x Twinkl subscription
1x Optimus Education conference place and training pack
1x Insights Discovery Profile from Brightfield Consulting

To be in with a change of winning these, you must write a blog about TMLondon. It could be about one particular presentation (but not your own!), or about the whole evening. Those who viewed at home can also take part. Prizes are subject to availability in your area; the judges decision is final.

Please email a link to by Sunday 12th April. If you include @TeachMeetLondon in any tweets we can share with the #TMLondon followers too! If you have a prize preference please also include in your email.

You can watch the videos again here to help you out: