Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Freedom in RE

Image courtesy of 2 Oceans Vibs

Last night on the Facebook group of RE teachers called 'Save RE' a row escalated after a NQTs request (on behalf of her head of department) for teaching resources on the Illuminati. People were accused of being mean and that members of the group had been 'attacked'. There were polarised views as to whether this was brilliant engagement and relevance to kids who are "always talking about it", or something that had no place whatsoever in RE.

It made me think. Do History and Geography have such dilemmas? 

Is there a place on the internet where Historians argue about what is history? Do they debate what they should be covering in their lessons? Or how to cover more unconventional topics? Do Geographers row about the content of their KS3 lessons? Do they fall out over what to types of geographical features should or could be included? 

Now RE is distinct and different to other humanities; although let's not try to define it's purpose or we'll have another quickly escalating argument. However I increasingly wonder to what extent. I believe that such rows erupt in RE for a number of reasons:
  • Many schools follow their Locally Agreed Syllabus (LAS) which is a curriculum determined locally. However many do not follow it that closely and there is little monitoring in many places. Some teachers who should follow it do not, and 'do their own thing' to a large extent.
  • Due to local determination when national (international even?) RE forums for discussion raise such issues, people do not know local context. Maybe the Illuminati is on the teacher's LAS? (I'm not sure it is?).
  • RE suffers from its legal status... what is compulsory for all? What is an academic option? What are the schools responsibilities? RE's status can sometimes be it's downfall, especially when people do not know exactly what it is.
  • The perception of the subject can still be poor for a multitude of reasons: time allocation, resources, lack of specialists, SLT view etc. This results in a drive to be relevant and engaging; too often I feel it is misleading. I again reference this:
Image courtesy of The Brilliant Club

  • Teachers can often be in one person departments with little support, or challenge. It often vital you have a friendly colleague to raise his or her eyebrow as you make a suggestion of what or how to teach.
  • Subject knowledge and specialism in RE can too often fall short. Understanding the complexities of "What is religion?" may be beyond some, especially those drafted in willingly or not from other subject areas.
  • Time challenges. Often RE teachers suffer more than most from this. Some teacher 75% of the school (or more), they have fewer people to share planning with, or may not have the resources. Hence many a request on Save RE... Do they have time to create bespoke, individual schemes of work?
  • RE teachers care. A lot. Since being excluded from the EBacc (hence the 'Save RE' name of the Facebook group), RE teachers want to passionately fight the good fight for RE. Sometimes this passion spills out into what some have called 'attacks' on Save RE.
  • There is some bad and ugly RE out there (see <here> and <here> for previous blog posts). Many RE teachers feel that should be challenged, as for some of the above reasons, it may not be challenged within schools.
This returns us to some of the contemporary issues of RE:
  • Specialist shortages
  • Lack of training
  • LASs or a national / core curriculum?
Would having a national or core curriculum for RE address #IlluminatiGate? Perhaps it would have eased it as people would have known the teachers reference point and understood better about how/why it would be included? Perhaps people could have simply pointed out that we have enough to et through with this curriculum that this kind of topic needs to be left to extra curricular forms (RE clubs etc)? 

Or would we just have a different set of dilemmas?

Also on the other hand, some people use the complete freedom to put together what certainly look like great RE syllabi... (see <here>)

And it's worth noting I work in a Catholic School so we have a comprehensive 'core curriculum' found in the Curriculum Directory (see <here>)

For the record, I am happy to admit I challenged the idea of teaching this topic, but I do not feel I was rude, personal or my posts can be construed as an 'attack'. I make no apologies for challenging things I do not think are right. I cannot in good conscience say 'great idea' when I do not think it is. Our time is precious as RE teachers, we also have the most fascinating subject in the world to teach. Sometimes we can do a little better, and I very much include myself in this.   

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