RE Today & NATRE Project for Excellent RE

Working with Culham St Gabriel’s

Excellent RE in Primary Schools

RE is too often marginal in schools facing curriculum change. However, there is some evidence that the subject can be pivotal in raising aspirations and standards through excellent teaching and learning, and improving opportunities for Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural Development (SMSCD) and British Values.

Over the last 5 years RE Today and NATRE, with Culham St Gabriel’s, have worked with groups of ten schools with primary age children to provide a forum for curriculum development and access to 3 ½ days of high quality, practical and inspirational CPD for RE with a focus on supporting RE as a lead subject in school improvement, SMSCD and British Values across the school. These groups have run in various areas of the country- North west, East, East Midlands, West Midlands, South East coast, London borough.

This funded project was open to schools where there was a commitment from senior leaders to actively support the staff involved, providing them with opportunities to complete school based tasks and implement new ideas. The project gave teachers access to many high quality resources and activities.

Ten schools from around the area work together with RE Today and NATRE to improve RE in their own schools and some of the delegates are empowered to go onto support other schools for instance through setting up or joining NATRE affiliated local groups.

We intended that the project would show positive outcomes for many children that include, but are wider than, RE achievement: these wider outcomes can be characterized as to do with SMSCD and British Values.

Many teachers, whether new to the profession or established in their teaching careers, have had little or no training in the teaching of RE, and have more concerns about teaching RE than they do of other subjects. In many schools HLTAs and TAs are involved in teaching and, in some cases, managing the subject. This project intended to increase confidence in the teaching of RE in those schools involved.

Working with these schools over 10-15 months, we met at least termly to develop planning and resourcing for better RE and respond to needs, problems and opportunities. RE Today advisers will use their experience and catalogue of resources to enable teachers to develop better RE in the schools with a focus on collaborative working, creative engagement and learning from diversity. Between main meetings, participants will work on RE improvement tasks in school, with frequent contact with advisers.

We will explore with the partner schools the best ways of enabling high-quality RE learning for pupils, and develop numerous examples of better practice in doing this.

What did schools need to commit to?

  • Participating schools needed to show a commitment to this project over a period of 10-15 months.
  • Allow a participant to attend all 4 of the face-to-face meetings
  • Release costs for teachers (3.5 days at up to £190 pd) will be paid by the project
  • Support participants to complete the school-based tasks
  • Make RE a school priority for at least the duration of the project.Questions we explored
  • We hoped to equip those who joined this project to either set up or support a NATRE network group in their area, sharing the expertise they have gained.
  • How can we improve teaching and learning in RE and cascade this throughout the school?
  • How can we create a manageable method of sharing with children realistic next steps in learning?
  • How do we ensure children are making appropriate progress in all aspects of RE?
  • How can we organise the curriculum for engaging and effective learning in RE?
  • How can improving RE have a wider impact on schools in helping pupils to take up opportunities for spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and British Values?
  • What thinking and pedagogies can energise teachers in a plural setting to make the most of RE’s potential for SMSCD and British Values?

Course Structure and Case Studies

The course provides delegates with the time, skills and resources to work out how RE in their school can and should be developed, before going ahead to make any necessary changes. The structure of the course and gap tasks allows for the trialling and evaluation of any new initiatives before successful ones are implemented on a whole school level.

Session 1 (0.5 days, Second half of the Summer Term)

An initial half day conference in order to prepare teachers for the course.

Main Focuses:

The aims of the course are set out alongside the requirements that all sessions must be attended and gap tasks completed. Time is devoted to looking at the importance of RE as a subject, alongside introducing some effective generic RE activities with a focus on why they are high-quality. This not only serves to heighten understanding about RE, but also helps to increase participants’ enthusiasm which is significant for individual and group success. Delegates are asked to state areas they would like leaders to focus on during the course. Without fail, assessment, teachers’ subject knowledge and engaging teaching and learning are brought up as some of the most pressing topics.

Gap Task:

At each session, ample time is given to ensure that the gap tasks are thoroughly explained, understood and planned. The first task asks delegates to complete a thorough audit of RE and SMSC at their schools. Blank systematic audit forms are given out, as are good examples of completed forms so that the teachers know what they are aspiring to in this task. Additionally, members of the group are asked to complete a survey of pupil and staff attitudes towards RE. Also, staff are asked to write two paragraphs, the first giving key background information about their school and the second giving a general introduction to RE in their setting.

Session 2 (1 day, Autumn Term)

Main Focuses:

Initially, the audits and surveys are analysed to distinguish areas of best practice and development. This session then looks at both RE and SMSC in more detail. Time is spent unpacking definitions of SMSC and helping teachers to create their own. A number of RE ideas and activities are introduced with an emphasis on why they are valuable and how they help pupils. Knowledge, enquiry, discussion and debate, visual learning, active learning and links to other areas (especially SMSC) are all touched upon. Training methods are modelled so that teachers can return to school and cascade to their colleagues effectively on RE and SMSC theory and activities.

Gap Task

This gap task consists of planning and carrying out a sustained learning opportunity (generally taking place over half a term) with a specific group of children. The aim is to improve a particular aspect of RE, SMSC or both with the chosen group of pupils. Teachers should then take what has been learnt through carrying out the activity and cascade the task and learning to another colleague, supporting their partner to create a similar sustained learning opportunity. A final written report is required.

The systematic audits and surveys show very clearly which aspects of SMSC or RE are in most need of improvement. Delegates must take these into account when planning their task – it is important to focus on what needs to be done rather than merely choosing an assignment because it sounds interesting or fun.

Staff are encouraged to update the audits regularly during and after the course so that they have a good understanding of RE in their schools and can see how it changes over time.

Session 3 (1 day, Spring Term)

Main Focuses

At least one third of this session is given over to delegates orally presenting their gap tasks to the rest of the group. Examples of work and planning are generally shared with the presenter explaining what they did, why, how it went and any changes they would make if they completed the task again. Peer feedback is invited.

Common issues found in RE at primary school are then focused on, with solutions and RE activities that can be introduced to help combat each one. These are often linked to concerns that delegates highlighted at the start of the course or others that have become evident throughout the first sessions.

Gap Task

Delegates should create an RE or SMSC programme of development lasting over at least half a term for a targeted group of children. They are asked to highlight where the curriculum already provides opportunities for SMSC or RE development and identify gaps where provision could be improved. These, alongside areas for development from the ongoing audits should form the basis of the programme of development. Again, learning should be cascaded to another member of staff. If SMSC was the focus during the last task, RE must be the focus this time round.

Session 4 (1 day, Summer Term)

Main Focuses

Again, a substantial amount of time is given to gap task feedback and evaluation. Staff engage with ideas about how to support colleagues’ subject knowledge and be an effective subject leader.

Time is given to discussing how schools move forward after the course. Starting up or attending local groups and applying for the RE Quality Mark are given as suggestions.

Gap Task

In order for the course to improve RE on a whole school level, delegates take time during this final session to explore and choose which parts of their gap tasks were most successful and likely to benefit the whole school. Methods of cascading these to the whole staff are discussed and relevant plans made.

Gap Task Case Studies

Gap tasks have been successfully based around a variety of areas, including: making RE purposeful, encouraging enquiry skills in RE, SMSC through RE, Attainment Target 2, creative RE, pupil engagement, curriculum design, encounter (visits and visitors), raising standards in RE, deeper learning and thinking, questioning and specific teaching techniques such as guided visualisation, persona dolls and Godly play.

Reception of Excellent RE

The course itself generally receives warm reception from its participants and has a high level of impact in participating schools. Below are a selection of short case studies and comments made by teachers when evaluating Excellent RE and its impact.

Case Study for School A

Issue: In KS2 however, almost half of the children felt that RE was one of their least favourite subjects and only 13% of children responded that they liked RE. Some children remembered having positive feelings about RE in the past, but this was now lost. It was also very clear from the teacher audits, and discussions with KS2 staff, that RE was a subject that they felt uncomfortable about teaching.

Solution: Pupil and teacher interviews to discover why RE is viewed negatively. Gaps and misconceptions were identified in the pupils and teachers knowledge. The subject leader and teacher jointly planned a series of lessons centred on Islam.

Outcome: KS2 teacher feels he has a better understanding of different approaches to teaching RE.

Children clearly enjoyed lessons and were more actively engaged with the content. Interview responses were very positive and children could identify how this different approach to RE had an impact on their understanding of Islam. The subject leader is now more aware of KS2 teacher’s attitude towards RE and the support he needs.

Case Study for School B

Issue: RE was often being pushed out of the timetable and although teachers tried to use the Agreed Syllabus, any RE taught was fairly ad hoc.

Solution: The teacher re-designed the curriculum in order to include RE weeks and a number of specific RE days so that progress was catered for and pupils were receiving their entitlement to RE lessons. Staff were introduced to a number of teaching resources, artefacts and lesson ideas for enquiry based learning.

Outcome: Staff had better attitude towards and greater understanding of teaching RE. Pupils were far more challenged and developed their thinking, understanding and questioning. There was still some way to go, so staff needed to find out about more lesson ideas, develop their subject knowledge and their understanding of the purposes of RE.

What do the teachers think?

The programmes had a high retention rate and people mainly only left due to maternity leave, leaving the school or long term illness. Probably the best evaluations come from the teachers themselves:

“The children now have increased subject knowledge and are able to talk about religions with confidence. All the teachers are now much more confident at teaching RE and planning their lessons. It has also raised the profile of RE across the school including being visible on school displays and talked about in staff meetings. It has been selected as 1 of 3 curriculum evening topics due to our achievements in RE this year.”

A community school in the Midlands“Children expect to be challenged and to have their ideas and thoughts questioned. Children are now given more time to talk, discuss and reflect on their ideas and responses, also time is important to help with the learning process. Children in (EYFS and KS1) are able to use these higher level questioning and thinking skills in all areas of the curriculum as they’ve had opportunities to apply these in a range of learning situations. Children can now also articulate their thought process more clearly and with confidence, as they’re now more used to being challenged in their thinking and learning.” A school with a religious character in the Midlands

“The difference in upper KS2 has been huge! The children are now so much more enthused with RE because of the quality of teaching and access to new resources they have received. The ‘religious literacy’ of children in all year groups has really improved. Being involved with the project has given RE back its ‘purpose’ in the classroom, so it has been seen as a priority by children and adults alike. The children have been more enthused because they have seen their teacher’s enthusiasm for RE grow. All members of staff have asked questions about their own RE teaching and discussed possible resources in response to conversations with upper the KS2 teacher and children. Teachers could see how RE could be taught in ‘real life’ modern contexts.”

A school with a religious character in the East Midlands