Each year, a new cohort of Year 7 students arrive. Some subjects have a National Curriculum, others are tested by SATs; there is some consensus about what students will know, and what they will not. However RE is very, very different.
Our Catholic feeder schools will have followed Come and See, a Catholic programme of study used by the majority of Catholic primary schools. We also have the Curriculum Directory which forms the basis of all that should be taught in Catholic schools. This should, or could, make it pretty straightforward to pick up where they left of.
It is important that I stress that primary colleagues do do a great job, and the knowledge and understanding of many Year 7 students is great. This is not designed as a criticism. It is also worth remembering the difference between: "they have been taught this" and "they know this".
However, we have a number of students that come from non-Catholic primary schools, who find RE in a Catholic school a really steep learning curve. Things that are taken for granted, like the Sacraments and the Mass, are totally alien to them. Even with a class set by ability, there is a phenomenal range in the first term (and beyond). Like many schools, we also have students from a range of other faiths: Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs - and of course some students of no faith at all.
ED Hirsch began his work by identifying key weaknesses in the students in his care; they were not succeeding as they had not been taught certain knowledge. It was the fact he cared about this, and believed he could address it, that lead to his work on 'cultural literacy' and identifying the key facts a child should know.
As such, I began thinking about how I could help new Year 7s to adapt and thrive in Term 1 of Year 7 RE (and beyond!). Catholic RE is different to 'other' RE, and we make few apologies for that. However it is also academic, critical and knowledge rich.
My solution was to produce a Knowledge Organiser linked to The Way, our Year 7 syllabus. I also wanted to include some of the key information that we often (dangerously) assume that students in a Catholic school will know. We are historically the 'option for the poor' and the poor has an ever changing definition. Those who are struggling or missing out need our help. Someone once suggested putting all the non-Catholic, or non-Catholic educated, students in one class to help them - I genuinely can't think of anything more horrific, or against the ethos of our schools.
This Knowledge Organiser is in draft format, and the first place I shared was in a Facebook group called Primary Catholic RE to get feedback - I want to work collaboratively on this with primary colleagues. It is not top down, from secondary. It is on a GoogleDoc that has comments open to all to offer suggestion, alternatives, criticisms. I feel it will be a better document if people do this.
Already I have faced some criticism, and I will begin to answer it:
- My intention was never to be "condescending" or "arrogant" to primary colleagues. KS2/3 transition is hard to get right. I want to work collaboratively, hence I am not doing something without sharing as widely as I can.
- This may not be appropriate in other contexts. This document has been labelled as "OTT", "Ridiculous" and "Far, far, FAR too much". I've asked what knowledge on here is not worth knowing, no-one has answered that so far.
- I do not believe that RE is about rote learning facts. However I do believe knowing certain key information (and knowing it well), will help students understand, analyse and evaluate material in the classroom.
- Proselytising is not the aim of Catholic RE. Knowing the parts of the Mass is not forcing anyone to believe it is true. However, I have seen huge ignorance of the Catholic Church, and ignorance is never a positive thing in life. I've also never known teaching students about the Mystery of the Trinity, or the Mystery of Eucharist remove key questions of faith - quite the opposite!
- This is not 'another test' for primary school children, I do not believe our feeder schools will take this document and start testing students on it in a high-stakes fashion, like their SATs - of course they won't! However it can be shared with parents and students new to Catholic education to help them 'close the gap'.
- Yes, it is a bit Hirsch-ian. No, he is not evil. Yes, Gove did cite him on occasion.
- Naturally these 'facts' will be given context, significance and meaning in the classroom.
- This knowledge cannot be simply labelled as "meaningless" and dismissed. It means something to someone - quite a lot actually. At the very least, it helps to understand the Catholic influence on art, culture, literature and so on. Criticism of Catholic schools via this document is not really that helpful.
- My vision of RE is not just knowledge-based, but imagine what you could do in the classroom if all (or most) students already knew key information? You could do far more deep thinking, meaningful debate and discussion, and extended writing.
I'm left with a few key questions:
- Can we expect new Year 7s to know certain things? And by this I mean facts, definitions, names, places, dates, stories - is this reasonable?
- How can we ensure it remains low-stakes, but also seen as important? We do not want a Catholic SAT in RE.
- What is the best way to share? Via primary schools, at Year 7 induction, in September of Year 7?
- Will we test it in Year 7? Should this provide the outline of our baseline test (much of it does!)?
- Is there a best way to work with primary colleagues on this?
- Is there a way of creating a more knowledge-rich curriculum in Catholic schools?
- How do we reconcile the demands of the Curriculum Directory with such a curriculum model?
- Is a simple Knowledge Organiser for each unit at Key Stage 3 the next best step?
- I have already done this and shared for feedback: The Way - Unit 1: Revelation and Faith
- Do we need an adapted version for Year 12 students who join our school and study A Level RS? The New Testament element of the course provides a real difficulty for some students.
Image courtesy of Blue Diamond