Tuesday, 4 November 2014

GCSE RE: Two Faiths

Image courtesy of mcknowledge.info

Since the initial "two faiths" revelations from Nicky Morgan (see <here>), many RE teachers have been waiting with expectation as to what exactly the new GCSE RE structures would include. The promise of early information ready for September 2016 teaching lead to a mixture of excitement and trepidation. People hoped they would be enthused rather than face palming at this opportunity to improve the popular RE GCSE qualifications.

The alleged 'leak' of information that all schools would be required to study two religions is no surprise in light of the Trojan Horse scandal which is effecting schools in all manner of ways. It fits with the idea that "British Values" need promotion extremism needs combating and that there needs to be more careful monitoring of what happens in RE, particularly in faith schools (see previous blog <here>). 

It has been widely reported in the Jewish press (see <here>), that Rabbis are not happy with this and they will continue to fight the expected GCSE structure. Various sources confirm that the Catholic Bishops are "concerned". This is understandable in many ways, as faith communities have long had a strong hold over what is taught in their schools. This change sees a shift in their control.

Despite my firm belief in the right and the reality of Catholic Education, I am not adverse to teaching two religions at GCSE. I love the comparative study of religions (I opted to study modules in Judaism and Islam at university) and we extend this part of the syllabus at Key Stage 3 already; beyond the Curriculum Directory. This was praised in our recent Section 48 inspection by our lead inspector, a Catholic priest, who made it very clear that Catholic schools have a vital responsibility to teach other faiths in sufficient detail.

There are important considerations to be made, such as ensuring a genuine, authentic and respectful teaching of the second faith. Subject knowledge is obviously key to this, as is resource sharing. These things I also believe in passionately and have lead to my leading involvement in www.CatholicREsource.co.uk and www.TheLondonREHub.com. I hope that both these projects will be useful in light of the new GCSE requirements for two faiths to be studied.  

A variety of sources have also suggested that if this proposal goes ahead, Judaism will be the preferred option in Catholic schools, I can fully understand this given "Our Fathers in Faith" and the notion of the People of God in the Old Testament... after all Jesus was a Jew [This fact still surprises many a student]. However, it must be considered that to study Islam may be more appropriate to student intake or local demographic. I think schools may also base their decision on potential examination results.  

We await, with continued baited breath for the announcement...

Monday, 3 November 2014

Inspecting RE in Faith Schools

The Guardian reports that Tristram Hunt has said, "there is a case for Ofsted to be allowed to inspect religious education in faith schools, saying schools may be exacerbating religious and ethnic segregation in English cities." (see <here> for full article)

This seems like a logical and natural reaction to the Trojan Horse scandal. However to look at Hunt's comments appears to show an accusation against faith schools:

"We have particular concerns that Ofsted is not allowed to inspect religious teaching in faith schools – that seems to me to be a slightly curious situation. It is a worrying trend in terms of cultural and ethnic identification through schooling."

OFSTED can currently go into RE lessons in faith schools to observe teaching and learning, and they do! I got observed during our last visit in November 2013 (see <here>). I don't see how there is a great need to inspect the content of religious teaching, especially given a sometimes limited understanding of the topics; I only got a Good rating as I gave Y7 students a theologically sound definition of the Messiah instead of letting students "work it out for themselves in pairs". This was a new topic to them, and none of them speak Hebrew.

Faith Schools have a separate Section 48 which checks their RE content. Ours was far more intense for the RE department than the Section 5! I had three full lesson observations (see <here>). There was thorough book checking, schemes of works were read, a whole separate SEF. Now, if Hunt is claiming we need to have examined exactly how the Qu'ran is being interpreted, or if Catholic teaching is being promoted in a liberal or conservative way, we may well need experts on the topics; that won't be OFSTED. 

Hunt went on to say, "Our answer is making sure Ofsted inspects schools on the basis of a broad and balanced curriculum.”.

For me this is a clear suggestion that he does not believe that faith schools provide this. St Benedict's in Suffolk was a RC faith school which suffered from this agenda which has already begun. It's initial OFSTED report said:

“It is not made clear how all students are prepared for life and work in modern Britain... Leadership and management could be made more effective by “making clearer the contribution to students’ preparation for life and work in modern Britain and the dangers of extremism

A statement from Ofsted said inspectors were now paying greater attention to ensuring that schools provided a broad and balanced curriculum. This faith school seemingly didn't fit the bill.

It is interesting, and a fact seemingly forgotten, is that the Trojan Horse schools in Birmingham were not indeed faith schools. They were community schools, who OFSTED had inspected and failed to notice things going wrong as they focused purely on numeracy and literacy. Why then are faith schools now being targeted?

The feel from many, especially those working in faith schools, is that all of a sudden, to be Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or even maybe CoE is to not hold British Values. And we're going to be targeted and made an example of by politicians on both sides who do not understand the unique and special place that faith schools hold in our British society.