Thursday, 19 January 2017

Abstract: The place of a core knowledge curriculum in RE [Series]

I will be publishing a series of blog posts which were initially to feature in a book about RE. This is the introduction: 
  1. Abstract [This blog]
  2. Hirsch
  3. Knowledge

The Matthew Effect  - For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. - (Matthew 25:29)

ED Hirsch Jnr has cited The Matthew Effect in his writing and lectures. Quite simply there is a great danger in our current education systems that the ‘rich get richer, while the poor get poorer’. He maintains that in order to avoid The Matthew Effect we need to cumulatively and systematically build up the background knowledge and vocabulary that students need to understand classroom discourse; long range preparation is key to avoid this undesirable effect on achievement and future prospects.

The RE teacher understands the context of The Matthew Effect within the Parable of the Talents; despite not being created entirely equally, God rewards the effort of those who work for his will. Students in the classroom are limited by the level of effort that they put in, but they are potentially equally limited in their achievements by the education provided. Hirsch calls this cultural literacy: educated, middle-class families may provide this at home, but for some students it is imperative that it comes from schools and teachers.

Critics of Hirsh’s approach of setting out systematic and cumulative core knowledge that should be learnt at each stage of a child's education, point out that in the UK we do not have the fragmentation of education like in the US. We have state exams, we have a National Curriculum. However in RE we have around 150 Locally Agreed Syllabuses, a growing number of free schools and academies (who can opt out of their LAS), plus schools with a religious character who can opt to study their own syllabus. The quality is variable, and the work (and expense) of writing and reviewing syllabuses immense.

It seems that this may be the moment to consider if RE would benefit from a core curriculum that sets out the knowledge that students should have at each key stage. This knowledge should not be seen as a limiting fence, but more an open gateway to importing their knowledge and understanding of religion and beliefs, as well as developing critical thinking skills. Such a system would provide a minimum standard for all syllabuses, improve the rigour and academic nature of the subject and even provide a benchmarking tool for schools with a religious character.

This series of blog posts aims to explore the possibilities, advantages and criticisms of such an approach to RE.

Image courtesy:,_Odessa.jpg 

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