Sunday, 28 June 2015

The Paradox of Liberalism: Same-Sex Marriage [Porta Fidei]

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

One of the papers delivered at the Porta Fidei conference by Adrian Pabst was on Liberalism and Catholic Education. It looked at some of the notions of liberalism that influences many of the social norms of life in Britain, and the problems that it potentially causes for those in Catholic Education.

This came at an interesting time when seemingly my entire Facebook was filled with rainbow coloured profile pictures celebrating the Supreme Court ruling in the USA making same-sex marriage legal nationwide. It would be a brave man or woman who would post an argument against gay-marriage this weekend. They would more than likely be labelled a ‘bigot’, ‘homophobic’ or worse.

Pabst made it clear that we need to listen; a major problem of contemporary liberalism is that it doesn't always listen. Libertarian liberalism is focused on a freedom whereby “you can do what you like” as long as it is within the law; this dominates social media in particular I think. It is in direct opposition to the beliefs of many people of faith, and indeed those of no faith too. Does consideration of the common good still exist?

There also seems to be a belief that a change of law will automatically change everyone’s mindset and there will be no more discussion or reflection needed. It doesn't. Obama has been explaining this week that just because racism is illegal in the US, it does not mean there is no racism and that there is much work still to be done (<here>). Just because the law has been changed on same-sex marriage, does not mean the discussion will end, nor should it.

John Stuart Mill was clear, in the 19th Century, that you need to be open to being proven wrong, and that ideas and beliefs should be freely discussed. This is being truly liberal (see <here>) and should be a characteristic of a liberal society. How can do the shutting down of debate with the use of abusive and hurtful insults be truly liberal? Are people free to believe and act in a way they see best (and can justify), or are people only free to believe and act in ways that a liberal society has decided it will allow?

It reminds me of David Laws MP at the TES Education Hustings in March 2015 who explained the Liberal Democrat Party’s view on faith schools. Some in the party argued to get rid of them as they can no longer be justified in an increasingly secular society, but others argued that in order to be be truly liberal, they must allow people who want faith schools to educate their children in them. 

In May, Lee Donaghy wrote a fascinating blog for the Labour Teachers site about teaching homosexuality in a Muslim school. His advice came down to essentially two pieces of advice:
  1. Teach things of faith accurately and in depth. This involves the nature of sin, and the difference between acts and people. Like Islam, many people do not understand the Catholic position on homosexuality. Students can have a very polarised view from parents rather than a factually accurate position. For them to form their own opinion, they need to be given all the information. 
  2. Teach the law. This may be at odds with some religious beliefs, but it is not irrelevant. There are plenty of laws which people do not approve of, or celebrate, but they are laws that need to be obeyed none the less.
You will not be able to do these things if debate is shut down under the perhaps well-intentioned cry of ‘homophobia’ (or racism, sexism etc). I urge you to read Lee’s blog in full <here>.

These ideas were revisited later in the day as James Arthur in his paper on The Catholic Identity of Catholic Institutions pointed out that many Catholics in public office are pressured into adopting secular views rather than being allowed to hold positions of faith. It is true that it is unpopular to hold a Catholic belief on the sanctity of life, for example. You will be more often than not shut down with abuse rather than engaged in debate. At the very least ridiculed. Possibly driven out of office.

Dom Anthony Sutch lead a wonderful session on Catholic leadership (with the brilliant Stephen Tiereny) where he reminded the Catholic community that, “We are a counter-cultural movement; we are what the culture should be.. a place of love.”. This was a powerful statement that reinforced some that Pabst had said earlier, that too often in contemporary society, “People feel they deserve whatever they can get.. and have a distinct smugness about it”

Sutch then said, “Our schools are there to form authentic human beings… with a personal encounter with Christ. We are the living face of Christ. When you are with child struggling with LBGT issues, you must be Christ.”

This was echoed by New York priest Fr James Martin on his Facebook (see <here>): 

Martin, who after receiving an absolute torrent of abuse from the Catholic community, linked to a number of responses including this one from the Archbishop of Atlanta (see <here>):

“It is not a license for more venomous language or vile behaviour against those who opinions continue to differ from our own… the decision has offered all of us an opportunity to continue the vitally important dialogue .”

We cannot have a liberal society, or a liberal classroom, where there is no dialogue. Vitally we must be able to listen, as Pabst suggested in his paper. There will be views in our classroom that we do not agree with: racist, homophobic, sexist. We need to listen and get to the heart of the matter without simply shutting them down.

As Christopher Hale writes in his excellent response to the decision: 

“When we listen to each other with big hearts, we can begin to overcome the unfair stereotypes that divide us. We can put to rest the great lie that everyone who opposes gay marriage is a bigot and that everyone who supports it is a bad Catholic.” (Read in full <here>)

Will people listen to this blog post or shut it down with abuse? I hope the former.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Porta Fidei: Challenges at the Chalkface

Image courtesy of <here>

I was privileged to be invited by Michael Merrick to present a paper at Porta Fidei in Carlisle on Saturday 27th June 2015:

An academic conference exploring the ambitions, obligations, challenges and obstacles facing faith schools in the United Kingdom. It shall consist of two keynote papers and four seminar sessions, seeking to generate honest discussion and debate in an atmosphere of collegiality and friendship.

We have a variety of speakers - from academia and school leaders, to teachers to public policy experts - presenting papers on themes as diverse as the formation of Catholic teachers, the challenge of secular liberalism to faith schooling, the 'Catholic curriculum', and the challenge of teaching RE in a post-Christian, pluralist society. The day will include two keynote papers and four seminar sessions, entitled: 'What Makes a Catholic School Catholic?', 'Faith and Leadership', 'Challenges at the Chalkface' and 'If Not This, What? Alternative Models of Catholic Education.'

The event is organised in association with the Diocese of Lancaster Education Service. <link>

I spoke about some of the challenges of being a Catholic RE teacher:

Seminar 3 – Challenges from the Chalkface
  • Chair: Canon Luiz Ruscillo
  • Andy Lewis – ‘Religious Literacy and the Purpose of RE’
  • Charlotte Vardy – ‘Are the Curriculum Reforms Good for Catholic RE?' 
  • Fr John Millar – ‘The Challenges of Chaplaincy’
Download my paper notes <here>

Podcast (no idea of quality!) <here>

Conference notes LIVE SCRIBED <here>

Friday, 26 June 2015

RS Reform Briefing: CREDO HEI Day at St Mary’s University College (22/6/15) -

I was there as the teacher... as Peter Ward of NBRIA gave his outline of key changes, Phillip Robinson of the CES explained some of the exam board outlines, Ant Towey explained the HEI involvement... I finished the day with a call to arms to the 84 RE teachers in the room. This is our moment, a moment to do something extraordinary.

On my return to school, I recorded a version of my short 'call to arms' that could be shown at Diocese meetings and other HEI days. Here it is:

Download a script of it <here>
Download the flyer <here>
Download the video <here>

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Like on Facebook: CatholicREsource
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Join the mailing list <here>

Friday, 19 June 2015

An Essex Boy in Yorkshire [NRocks 2015 - Part 2]

Here is Part 2 of my write up and reflection (after lunch)... see Part 1 <here>

David Cameron

The REAL David Cameron, not the Number 10 one, who focused on education tourism - and a lot more besides! 

He began by recognising what a tough job we have and reminding us that we will be played... particularly by politicians. David also highlight the fact that teachers are driven by fear, constantly wondering, what will happen next in my classroom? 

There was many name checks of the Twitter/Blogger-sphere including Alex Quigley's 'teaching plateaus that featured recently in the Guardian (see <here>) and Debra Kidd's book where she says, "it is pedagogical activism that will be the butterfly of change.". David then pointed out with conferences such as NRocks that people are not compelled by status to come, they are here because they hope to learn and want to find something to put into practice - and there should be great comfort that many teachers still want to do that. 

He said that if we do not believe in change, then it will not happen. There is much to try and imitate, but adoption doesn't work; it doesn't take things to the heart. 

David cited David Starky's experience in the classroom (see <here>) where we say a world class historian unable to control a class, and unable to teach. Adoption leads to transient movement forward... take the free schools in Sweden - "That's what we need!" said the UK Government - but the OECD report has just declared it a "basket case, failing system". The great marketisation of schools has lead to complete disruption, but we're still sticking with it.

In one of many fun anecdotes, David said that people saying "work smarter" is a valid place for violence in education... it's basically saying, "you are working pretty stupid right now!". A very valid point, it is deeply unhelpful as a remark. He also cited David Brailsford and his marginal gains theory, often used by schools... is it really fair to compare an Olympic cycling team to a school? Is this a good analogy? Personally I have always thought that there is some value in it, but you don't co
me to a conference to nod along to everything.

It was then time for data. Schools have an obsession to get it right for the school, not the child. The idea that teacher can do everything is the very reason that teachers are being burnt out. He cited many examples of how agencies need to pull together and work together for the child.

An interesting comment he made was about 'the club'. We, as teachers, are in the club; we have knowledge. We need to give our children the knowledge so they can join the club. This is the way things work. However, should we not be challenging the rules of the club to let others in? This confused me. I don't know what the club would involve it wasn't the rules as they are... so anyone can get in? Or are we trying to say that knowledge isn't the key to great freedom and choice?

He concluded by saying we are not going to find the answers to our problems in Taiwan or Sweden. We only every talk about adding to teachers workload instead of taking things away... what we need to do with the spinning plates is work out which are Wedgwood and which are Ikea! Which lead to a rousing finale of David shouting about us taking control as the Clash played...

Follow David on Twitter <here>

John Tomsett

It is always a pleasure to hear John speak; he is also one of those who appears to cross the traditional / progressive divide being asked to speak at pretty much every conference going! His blog is always an honest joy to read (see <here>) and he is insightful on Twitter (see <here>)... can't wait to read his book!

The reason I was so keen on this, is that I wanted to see John's meta-cognition ideas in practice. I've been working hard on this, this year and having read a blog back in April, I thought to myself... I do that, I think... (see <here>). For A-Level Philosophy, I simply deconstruct the questions; I underline, highlight, annotate, in front of the students so they know my thinking in approaching a question. I was glad I was no alone! 

John explained how with his Physics class, he knew that they knew the material but couldn't understand why they got such poor marks. He started to look to meta-cognition (the posh word for how your brain works), looking at how it reacts to pressure and what happens when we don't know what to do. So rarely do we train up our brains for exams!

He bought an Ipevo visualiser, gave them another copy of the mock paper and spent time going through questions explaining his own thought process. They annotated as he did. 

John then gave out a third exam paper. Nearly all students went up 3 or 4 grades with no new teaching of content.

We then tackled Hannah and her sweets together! It worked and I am glad my Ipevo arrives next week so I can start looking at other ways to help students with this technique.

The second half of the session included various other nuggets of wisdom from John, based on ideas found in his book: "This Much I Know About Love Over Fear ... Creating A Culture For Truly Great Teaching" (see <here>). He spoke about how school leaders must drive out fear; fear debilitates. We also need to teach students to avoid fear. John spoke about why this must be the reason to take away graded lesson observations for a start. Teachers should not fear the students in their class not getting the right answer... after all they shouldn't be doing easy tasks! He also refered to Rita Pierson's TED talk about being the champion for our students (see <here>)

He ended by highlighting the fact our students are living in a perfect storm. There are cuts to CAMHS and other mental health providers, we have cliff-edge judgements, terminal examinations, harder exams and social media that leaves no down time. 

We ended this time with Joe Strummer... 

Again, it's worth checking out John's blog on his session <here>


After this there was heated discussion between Mary Bousted of ATL and Sean Hartford from Ofsted about the inspection future.

Then music and silliness. Then the pub... see more <here>

All in all, well worth a weekend in Leeds!

An Essex Boy in Yorkshire [NRocks 2015 - Part 1]

Northern Rocks was many things for me. It was CPD, it was reflection, it was a chance to network, and a time to socialise with friends. I've already written a short post about how great it was to be part of Staffrm on tour and the SLTCamp reunion! Read it <here>

This blog focuses more on the CPD, including some vital reflection. It's probably got an RE and pastoral leadership slant.

Martin Robinson says in Trivium 21c, “Schools need... a culture that is at once traditionalist and progressive”. I was reminded of this as I arrived and was told, "this is pretty left of middle and progressive" (I would probably have known, had I had time to study the programme in advance!). I didn't know if this troubled me or not, as I often find myself drifting towards the traditional and right of centre as I hit 10 years in the job. I become obsessed with students learning stuff, and writing essays, and reading. However I am also a Head of Year and I know that actually to facilitate that, you sometimes need to step outside of the traditional approach to 'make things work' in a specific context.

The opening debate featured discussion on the Ebacc, teacher retention and government rhetoric adn testing. A few things, and reflections, that stick out in my mind:
  • There is not enough pressure promoting the importance of arts: government, parents, universities, students themselves... are the arts actually important? (I believe yes, so why are we not doing anything?)
  • School leaders are not currently doing enough to protect the arts, they can be rebels!
  • Why are there so few teachers willing to run extra curricular activities than enrich the lives of students, sharing their own passions and interests? (Workload is the simple, and probably correct answer)
  • In an increasing 'evidence based' culture, can we evidence the arts and the effects of arts education?
  • Should a basic curriculum not include art, drama, gardening, cooking, sport, outside learning... and documenting this would include lots of opportunities for reading, writing and maths? Personally despite the noble content, I'm not sure I could cope with such a curriculum!
  • Teacher recruitment is linked to the economy and as the economy does up, teachers go down... the labour market is what it is. I can't help feel, government rhetoric doesn't really help though!
  • Teachers are made of tough stuff, if you couldn't cope with Gove, you'll never cope with Y9! Totally agree with this from Laura McInerney.
  • The fragmentation of training routes is confusing and not helpful to graduates. Most teachers couldn't tell someone who wanted to become a teacher how to become a teacher, let along the 'best' way!
  • What do teachers want more of, time or money? (Or both?)
  • Andy Knill made a very valid point of valuing teachers aged over 50.
  • Marking... became a key theme of the day. Triple impact marking got an absolute slating time and time again as not the best use of teachers time. An example was cited of teachers spending lots of time taking photos of practical lessons to keep them as evidence. For who?
  • School leaders are key to workload and need to be clear on what Ofsted want (and don't want) and ensure it is communicated to staff. 
Stephen Tierney 

"We are going to collaboratively plan what we want to teach, teach it as well as we possibly can and then find out what worked and what didn’t.  It’s our new master plan." 

I had been keen to hear Stephen speak as he produce's a lot of really useful resources that he shares via Twitter and his blog (<here> and <here>).

He started off challenging us all to picture great teaching. I admit that it is not a clear vision that I have made explicit to myself, like many, and this is perhaps a worry when you are leading, observing, supporting and challenging. He is Stephen's vision:

He asked some pertinent questions about planning... always ask why you are doing something in a lesson? "Where is the learning?" He reminded us about the best ways to assess and how that should be our start point and work back. Architects ask, "How do we want to live?" rather than "How do you want the concrete poured into the foundations?" Plan learning and cut out the nonsense... are you simply tacking in some resource you found? If you don't know why it is there, take it out.

Stephen also reminded us about the authority leaders have: you dictate how people spend their time in school, what classes they teach, what meetings they attend (reminding me of the Billy Bragg line, "no power without accountability" - and how schools need self-reflection over the 'workload crisis'). He also said that for too long in his career, meetings had too many apologies... if you are simply relaying information, surely there is a better way to do things rather than replicating meetings down a chain of command? he suggested that meetings should be focused on talking about your subject and how to teach it better.

As a leader, you do not want someone doing a great job, and someone doing a useless job, when had you planned it together, they would have both been doing a good job. Learning and teaching is complex and should usually be a team-based decision making process. Too often we use teams for simple decisions and discussions, wasting expertise.

A real interesting piece of information share was that the majority of students get to the right place, by the wrong route... raising lots of questions about post-level assessments, trajectories and flight paths:

Stephen then concluded asking about how well we know 'our people'. Do we know our team / staff's interests, skills and needs? He explained how his schools use a GoogleForm to pair staff up for coaching and mentoring. He also said it is a really high priority to do all that he can to keep good staff, and develop them, as they are what really make the good school.

We were left with some questions as leaders:
  • How will you seek to build quality into every child’s learning experience?
  • How will you use assessment to support teaching & learning?
  • How will you develop teachers (and keep on developing them) to be the best they can be?
For me, the most powerful thing that came from listening to Stephen is that he has really considered the vision that he wants for his students, staff and schools. There appears a great coherence and lots of joined up thinking... observations, planning, appraisal, CPD, teaching... all are part of this. 

I strongly urge you to have a read of Stephen's presentation in full <here>

Hywel Roberts

It is always pleasing when someone who works as education consultant reminds the audience that there are no magic beans! Sadly for too long there have been those who have tried to sell a solution to a school that will solve all things... thankfully Hywel is different, and in many ways more than that! 

He session was slightly controversially named, "Lessons Worth Behaving For", which promoted one or two sat at home on Twitter to make the assumption that Hywel was saying there are also some lessons NOT worth behaving for. This was not the case at all. 

Hywel explained that we have to take some responsibility in setting the tone for our classrooms; we know how kids behave in certain areas and spaces and need to be proactive in our approach. He then went on to talk about hooks... and how staff need a set of experience and skills up their sleeve. It did worry me that we were getting into the 'relevant and engaging' discussion; whereby too many teachers have a potentially dangerous idea of that this. 

However Hywel looked at some ideas to do with studying the Egyptians and then went on to explain how teachers need to be the 'Sherpas of the curriculum' creating deliberate engagement by being organised, meeting and greeting students, welcoming them to the classroom with warmth and intimacy. 

There was some important discussion about survival. I think he is right to say, particularly in secondary, we get obsessed with coverage and travel through the specification for GCSEs. He made a reference to Jaws and the 3 characters who had 3 different views: "We've always done it like this", "We need to do things differently" and "Can we just get it done?".... Too often, we are the goats on the roof simply trying to survive:

(and the goat on the left is doing a learning walk!)

The final thought was this, we need to make children obsessive about their learning, They may leave saying, "Please can we do it again?"... or for a Y9 they may say, "It was alright."!

Overall, a really entertaining session that did make me keep thinking about relevance and engagement, despite quite a few nods to primary teaching, this was well-worth attending.

Follow Hywel on Twitter <here>

Part 2 to come!

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

BlogSyncRE Special: A New Settlement? A RC View

Image courtesy of @FaithDebates

This blog is part of a #BlogSyncRE special in response to the document "A New Settlement: Religious and Belief in Schools". See more <here>

I write this as a Catholic, teaching RE in a Catholic school. Often when I have blogged about my support of Catholic Education or faith schools, I have received a fair bit of trolling online (both religious and non-religious people can be mean, amazingly enough!). Rarely do I quote scripture, but I always find it important to remember: "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first." (John 15:18) - always good to remember that JC got his share of trolling too! 

It's also important to remember that I do spend a lot of time in discussion and communication with the non-Catholic RE world and some of my very good friends would absolutely disagree with me on the issues of faith schools and Catholic RE. Also recently, I have presented twice about The Future of RE (<here> and <here>) and have written about it for the July 2015 issues of UKEdMag. The themes I discussed were very much in keeping with the suggestions put forward in this pamphlet. I am still working out my own personal position on it all.

The official CES Statement:

"The Catholic Education Service welcomes the Westminster Faith Debates report A New Settlement: Religion and Belief in Schools as an important contribution to the debate on the place of religion in schools. The report acknowledges the important role which Church schools play in the public sector and supports Catholic parents' right to send their children to Catholic schools.

We welcome the report's support for the admission and employment criteria in Catholic schools. Catholic schools serve first and foremost the Catholic community, reflecting the vast contribution that the community makes in terms of their provision and ownership of the land and school buildings, financial contributions and support given by parents and governors.

The purpose of Religious Education (RE) in Catholic schools differs from that of community schools. RE is at the core of a Catholic school and must make up 10% of curriculum time. Catholic RE equips students with the skills to discern and deepen their faith and teach them about the faiths of other religious communities in order to respect and understand them. Regular Diocesan inspections of this curriculum holds Catholic schools publicly accountable.

Given the distinctive nature of RE in Catholic schools, any national RE curriculum would not fulfil the purposes of RE in both Catholic and community schools. Catholic schools will continue to follow the RE curriculum as set out by the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales." (<source>)

In this post, I'd like to focus on what I believe (personal views, not with any authority), the CES and Catholic schools would, or could, not agree with. I will be referring to the numbers found in the final summary of the pamphlet, but also found <here>.

The autonomy of schools with a religious character

5. The government discusses with the faith school providers, including academies and free schools, the merits of voluntary-aided and foundation faith schools adopting this nationally-agreed syllabus and, on the basis of such discussions, considers legislating to require all maintained schools to adopt this syllabus.

6. The government also discusses with faith school providers including academies and free schools, the importance of making a distinction within schools between religious instruction, formation and education, including agreement that religious instruction (even of a kind which does not include coercion, or distortion of other religions or beliefs) does not take place within the school day.

7. In addition, the government discusses with independent schools whether they should adopt this nationally-agreed syllabus and, on the basis of such discussions, considers legislating to require all schools to adopt this syllabus.

16. The ability of faith schools to retain their own inspection process for the content of collective worship and religious formation should be reconsidered within the context of the overall changes we propose.

These recommendations set out here, clearly seek to remove the autonomy of schools with a religious character in terms of curriculum content and inspection. These are two of the foundation stones of Catholic education and were original conditions of the Church agreeing to enter into partnership with the state in the first place. When the Church agreed to help provide free education with land and buildings, often built by parishes or religious communities, there were conditions put in place which this proposal seems to be trying to remove. Without such autonomy, what would make these schools of 'religious character'? Some have suggested these proposals contain suggestions that would see the end of faith schools, despite some very positive things said about them in other parts of the report.

Definitions of RE

Religious Instruction is defined as:
that which takes place from a faith standpoint, and its purpose is to instruct in that standpoint. it does not involve critical questioning or consideration of alternative religious or non-religious options.

Religious Education is defined as:
to understand the importance of religions; to appreciate their history and social significance; to be familiar with their beliefs, customs and practices; to be aware of the ways in which they have shaped the world and human lives; to be able to understand the meaning of religious language and symbols; to be able to form and articulate their own values and beliefs in relation to such understanding.

Some would suggest that their definition of RE is more like RS and the definition of RI is deliberately phrased in such a way as to suggest confessional study cannot be critical and consider alternative points of view.

In Catholic schools, we analyse Catholicism from within, not as a curiosity from the outside (and I have taught in schools where they didn't believe Catholics actually existed... a mix of aliens and Victorians!). We do not assume pupils are beginning with an agnostic starting point; however those who are naturally questioning their faith or have lost their faith are of course not ostracised.

This report seems to indicate that schools with a religious character are intent on proselytising, indoctrinating and 'switching off' student's critical faculties. This is something that I personally, as a Catholic RE teacher, find very hard to accept. It is a caricature of RI of the past, something that I have never experienced in a modern RC school (although I not naive to claim it never happens, as it probably does in a number of faith schools and non-faith schools). 

A significant number of theologians at university level are professing members of particular faiths and would suggest that faith is best analysed within the context of a lived tradition which understands the significance of that tradition. Some would suggest this results in a higher level of religious literacy (see <here>).

In my first reactions, when some were surprised that Catholics may not support this pamphlet in it's entirety, I hastily typed this:

Why would faith schools actively support something that:
A) Suggests changing collective worship that they would ignore and keep doing anyway
B) Suggests removing legal obligation for KS4 RE when they would probably keep compulsory GCSE anyway
C) Suggests a national curriculum for RE which they wouldn't follow anyway
D) Suggests changing SACREs which they don't use anyway

Some will argue that faith schools and faith groups should be behind the the report in order to improve RE for all in England. I am quite sure that there will be other faith groups who have hesitation too. 

The recommendations in the report are largely considered opinion, currently without more in-depth research. There are some key questions to look at:
  • Would the removal of compulsory RE (particularly at KS4) lead to an improvement in standards? (Or just a drop in numbers as some have suggested?)
  • Would a national curriculum (or similar) have the desired uptake to raise standards? (Give the current % of schools who could choose to not follow it without drastic law changes)
  • Does the academies / free schools programme that continues to grow, lessen the effect of such recommendations even if implemented? 
  • Is collective worship a priority? (It was number 1 on the list of recommendations and made most of the headlines)
  • Would that particular name change (to Religion and Moral Education) solve problems or create more? (We are already a very divided community over our name!)
  • Are SACREs and LASs as ineffective as some would suggest?
  • Why have previous proposals and documents failed to have widespread impact? (And what would be different with this one?)
One things I would be interested in, as a Catholic RE teacher, is what a national curriculum document should or could include. One aspect which has interested me personally is the idea of a set of core knowledge, as is set out in the new GCSE Appendices. I would find it useful to see what such a document would set out as the 'core knowledge' for Key Stage 3. It would also be helpful to planning for the new GCSE examinations. 

I look forward to reading a wide range of reflections from the RE Community and beyond via 

Friday, 12 June 2015

Periscope at HertsSecNATRE

I was very honored to key note the inaugural meeting of the Herts Secondary NATRE Local Group. It was organised off the back of The London RE Hub (see more <here>) by Laura Passmore, Becky Shah, Laura Pope and Flora Richards

It was a fantastic evening, putting a lot of names to faces and sharing some great RE discussion. A note of real thanks must go to Flora's school and students who were amazing hosts. The students were incredibly polite and helpful; they were interested in the event and desperate to look after our every need. Particular note must go to the 'welcoming committee' who were shaking peoples' hands and ensuring I had a chair to "rest my weary legs". The surrounds at Aldenham School were stunning, with hospitality as warm as the weather!

Inspired by Neil McKain, I decided to try and use Periscope for the first time. As Neil has said, he wants more RE documented so it can be shared more widely via Twitter, Save RE, other Local Group meetings etc. This is why were very keen to get all of The London RE Hub filmed too.

First up, I delivered a key note on The Future of RE, similar, but more consise than my presentation to Teach First on Saturday (see here):

Download <here>

You can watch it here:

I then also presented during the TeachMeet section too on some 'quick wins' in RE using metacognition:

Download <here>

Big thanks again to the team for organising, and for inviting me along, I hope I will be able to visit again soon!

Saturday, 6 June 2015

The Future of RE - #TFREConference

Image courtesy of Buckaroobay
  • What are the challenges that will face RE in the next 5 years?
  • How can we recruit enough RE teachers?
  • Can we ensure quality RE provision with non-specialists?
  • Will SACREs remain relevant and useful?
  • What changes in the law do we want or need to improve RE?
  • What effect will the new GCSEs and A-Levels have on the subject as a whole?
These are some of he questions I attempted to answer in my presentation on 'The Future of RE' at the Teach First Curriculum and Controversy Conference in June 2015.

To download view the presentation with my speaker notes, download <here>


Resources from Culham St Gabriel's Thinking Days March / April 2015

Day 1 - What should / could a 2020 Ofsted Report on RE look like?
Ofsted A
Ofsted B
Day 2 - How could this be achieved?
Timeline A
Timeline B
Plan A
Plan B

Friday, 5 June 2015

BlogSyncRE: Religious Literacy

BlogSynRE: What is religious literacy and how can it be improved in RE classrooms?

The student who attends both Catholic primary and secondary school will receive approximately 14 years of RE. They will also probably have had about twice as much lesson time as students in a non-faith schools. They will also have at least one external qualification (GCSE RS) plus will have probably have had some 6th form RE. 

Does this make them religiously literate? Does it make them more religious literate than students in non-faith schools?

Obviously some may suggest that they may not have the breadth of study, but they certainly have the depth. Does this indepth study and understanding actually enable them to better transfer knowledge of religion to other faiths more easily? Does a confessional approach actually help in becoming more literate about religion in general, and more specifically other faiths? Would a faith school student have a better understanding of the demands of religious belief, regardless of the faith in question?

I guess, to draw a parallel with English, you become more literate by reading more. Do you become more religiously literate by studying more? However, to be more literate, maybe you need to read the 'right' books? Maybe you need to study the 'right' stuff in RE to become religiously literate?

Interestingly, I am currently beginning my half-term units on Hinduism (Y7) and Islam (Y9). As I have 5 lessons per fortnight, this gives me approximately 20+ lessons on each. I wonder how many schools are able to dedicate such time to each? Judaism is covered over Y7 and Y8, occupying at least the same number of lessons (possibly more). If anyone questions my credentials for teaching other religions as a Catholic, I remind them I had Dr Tim Winter as my supervisor at Cambridge on Islamic jurisprudence and Shar'ia. I still remember his face as he read through my essays...

Additionally, given our status as 'core of the core' as a subject, we are a very well resourced and high status subject. We have extensive artefact collections, plus a wide selection of textbooks to cover each religion. Students enjoy the subject, and are determined to do well in it. The headteacher teaches RE. We also are one of the departments who lead on teaching and learning.

Admittedly, we only focus on one religion at GCSE at the moment. However we do do Edexcel Philosophy and Ethics at A-Level which goes way beyond a Christocentric curriculum. The GCSE syllabus will obviously change in 2016 and this is something I fully welcome; I look forward to studying Judaism or Islam at a higher level (and digging out my undergrad notes!).

So, does a faith school RE education result in greater religious literacy? 

This is merely a discussion generating suggestion. I look forward to reading your views and responses.
This is part of June's