Monday, 22 December 2014

A Response to Peter Vardy from the CES

The following was emailed to Catholic schools in England and Wales via Diocese Advisers. The CES have given permission for it to be published on the #REconsult blog:

A Level Religious Criteria

Some of you may be aware that Peter Vardy has been attempting to rally support for an alternative criteria document for the reformed A Level in Religious Studies. He is using the contact lists he has through school attendances at conferences to bypass diocesan Religious Education departments to appeal directly to heads of departments and teachers. He even organized his own “consultation meeting” which many of our schools attended.

It would be very helpful if you could share the contents of the attached paper with all head teachers, heads of Religious Education departments and teachers of Religious Education in all of your schools to inform their response to the consultation. In this paper we explain why the CES supports the new criteria document for A Level Religious Studies and why we do not think Vardy’s criticisms of it are fair or honest.

On Vardy’s own website, ( he attacks the new criteria for being incompatible with the curriculum directory and encourages teachers to petition you and your bishop. The bishops would not have welcomed anything which was contrary to the curriculum directory and the examples Vardy gives are grossly misrepresentative and inaccurate. I also think it would be wise to advise your own bishop that the petitions they are receiving from your teachers originate from the Vardy’s activism and will be reflective of Vardy’s biased view of the proposals.

Peter Vardy has no authority to speak on behalf of the Catholic Bishops Conference or the Catholic HEIs. It is also worth noting that we believe Peter and Charlotte Vardy have a vested interest which they are not declaring. Their company, Candle Conferences, makes a considerable profit from hosting conferences and writing text books which address the topics covered in the Philosophy and Ethics approach to the subject. Their misrepresentation of the current proposals would be useful to them in promoting an alternative proposal which they would already be in a position to resource with conferences and books.

The CES and NBRIA worked closely with the DfE in the production of these criteria for A Level and it represents an approach to the subject which is supported by our Catholic higher education institutions and was publicly welcomed by the Bishops’ Conference. Whilst we welcome any suggestions for improving the criteria, a rejection of them in their entirety, as Vardy suggests with his alternative proposal, is not compatible with the public welcome we and the Catholic HEIs have given and could potentially undermine the work we can continue to do with the DfE on behalf of our sector in this regard. We want a rigorous and relevant course of study for the A Level students in our Catholic schools and reject Vardy’s presumption that his lopsided approach to the subject is the only possible way of providing this.


Attached circular:

The CES position with regard to the proposed A and AS Level in Religious Studies

Peter Vardy has publicly attacked the CES for supporting the proposed A Level criteria published by the DfE and alleges that it is incompatible with the curriculum directory. In this paper we explain why we have given this proposal our support and why we reject Vardy’s criticisms of it.

Why we support the draft criteria document published by the DfE
  1. The current criteria are in large part the fruit of work which representatives of the Theology departments of our Catholic HEIs shared with the DfE at a series of meetings leading up to the drafting of the current criteria. These institutions included representation from Heythrop College, Leeds Trinity University, Liverpool Hope University, Newman University, The Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology at Cambridge, St Mary’s University, Blackfriars, Oxford and the Durham Centre for Catholic Studies. This group welcomed the shape and content of the draft criteria which has been released for consultation. If it has the support of all of the theology departments of the Catholic institutes of Higher Education we can be confident that it represents an A Level which will prepare students very well for a higher study of Theology and Religious Studies – which has to be the main purpose of an A level in Religious Studies
  2. The proposed criteria are much more broad and balanced than both the A Level they are intended to replace and the alternative criteria Vardy proposes. Whilst a serious study of Philosophy and Ethics can still make up 50% of the new A Level it has to be supplemented by either a 50% study of scripture or a 50% study of systematic theology. This means that the A Level will now allow a proper study of Catholic theology in all of its richness and breadth. We must remember this is an A Level in Religious Studies, not an A level in Philosophy and Ethics, so it is not unreasonable to require that those who study it have to actually study at least some religious and theological content.
  3. The proposed criteria are more academically rigorous than the A Level they are intended to replace. For example, the new criteria require a depth study of the work of two theologians in the systematic study of religion. This was in direct response to the HEIs who had pointed out that the requirement to have a grasp of the work of theologians was largely absent in the current specifications. Where theologians were referred to, these references were superficial and out of date. It is also better to approach the work of a theologian on its own terms rather than simply mining the work of a vast sweep of scholars in order to fill themed essay responses to particular issues with quotations. This study of two key thinkers is a feature which is also repeated in the Philosophy and Ethics approach in the current proposed criteria. For the first time in a long time our A level Religious Studies students will have the opportunity to engage in a proper study of Catholic theologians and theological thought.
  4. The proposed criteria still contain the richness and engaging questions which both teachers and students have found so appealing in the Philosophy and Ethics approach to Religious Studies. It still contains a study of ethical theory, applied ethics, arguments for God’s existence, the problem of evil, religious language and an opportunity for further study of other areas within philosophy and ethics as the current criteria are very open. They give a list of exemplar topics but allow exam boards the liberty to populate these in new and creative ways.
  5. The proposed criteria are much more demanding in terms of the skills they require of students. In the previous A Level examination specifications, up to 70% of the marks could be awarded for knowledge recall, whilst only 30% would be given over to critical analysis and evaluation. In the proposed new assessment objectives for AS Level the balance between knowledge recall and critical analysis is equally weighted, with 50% of the marks given to each. In the proposed new assessment objectives for A Level, 60% of the marks will be awarded for critical analysis and evaluation. This shift in balance toward the skills we are trying to develop in students of sixth form age is another very welcome feature of the proposed new criteria.
  6. The proposed criteria allows a thorough study of Philosophy, Ethics and Scripture. This combination is not possible in many of the current specifications which exist. This is because a study of Philosophy accounts for 50% of the course and a study of Ethics accounts for the other 50% of the course allowing no space for a study of scripture. Now a study of Philosophy and Ethics makes up 50% of the study, leaving space for scripture study or a systematic study of religion.
Why we reject Vardy’s arguments against the proposed criteria
  1. Vardy argues that the proposed A Level criteria will have a devastating impact on student recruitment to the subject at A Level. This may or may not be the case. Vardy is simply stating it without any real evidence to support this claim. It is certainly not clear why it should be the case – the elements of the previous course which Vardy claims were so attractive to students (that is, the Philosophy and Ethics content) are still central features of the proposed A Level and the new qualification could still be presented to them in the same attractive way as has always been the case.
  2. Vardy argues that the proposed structure is narrow and lacking in rigour. Given what we have said above, this is a misrepresentation of the proposed criteria which are more rigorous and broader than both the current criteria and Vardy’s proposed alternative.
  3. Vardy argues that the new criteria are more weighted towards content coverage and knowledge recall than towards critical analysis and evaluation. This is the exact opposite of the truth which leads us to wonder whether Vardy has even read the Ofqual consultation or is deliberately attempting to mislead teachers in order to garner their support.
  4. Vardy argues that there is no reference to Natural Law and that a study of it would not be possible in the proposed criteria. Again this is simply not the case. The relevant area of the proposed criteria states that students will be required to study “two ethical theories such as utilitarianism or virtue ethics.” Whilst Natural Law is not mentioned in the two examples given it is clearly not ruled out – any two ethical theories can be studied. The two examples given are simply examples not prescriptions. Vardy has other criticisms of this kind in which he does not distinguish between those parts of the criteria which are prescriptive and those parts which are suggestive. Again this is very misleading and unhelpful.
  5. Vardy argues that too much of the systematic study of religion is given over to sociological studies of religion. We would agree that too much weight is given to the social expression of religion in the A Level part of the systematic study of religion but this point can be made as a specific and helpful suggestion for improving the proposed criteria rather than a reason for rejecting them in their entirety.
  6. Vardy argues that the proposed criteria will produce an A Level which is not relevant to young people and will not engage them. As we have already stated, the Philosophy and Ethics content contains many of the same elements which they have always found engaging and relevant and a great deal more in the systematic study of religion which have not be explored before – such as a theological understanding of the nature of God, an understanding of different models of the Church , the principles which inform the key moral teachings of the Church, the development of liberation and feminist theology, a study of the key documents of the second Vatican council, and a thorough study of key Catholic theologians such as Augustine and Aquinas (or other contemporary theologians like Rahner or Von Balthazar). These are deeply relevant in a broad and balanced study of Catholic theology at A Level.
  7. Finally, whilst the consultation gives us the opportunity to suggest improvements to the current draft criteria, the proposed alternative suggestion of shrinking the content to an exclusively Philosophy and Ethics approach is one we do not support and one which we would expect not to be supported by Catholic heads of Religious Education departments or the teachers within those departments.

Draft Subject Content for A-Level RS: A Response (Wendy Dossett) | TRS Chester

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This is the view of many teachers, examiners and text-book writers regarding the reform of the Religious Studies A-level curriculum. And they have a point. Neverhas A-level RS been more popular, having approximately doubled its take-up in the last decade. Although growth is now slowing, possibly as a consequence of government interventions at Key Stage 4 which have negatively affected the subject, more than23,000 young people gained the qualification in 2014.

This is to be both celebrated and protected. It has been argued, with some justification, that the emphasis in A-level Religious Studies on Philosophy of Religion and Ethics accounts for this popularity. Young people want to ask the ultimate questions, both metaphysical and ethical – ‘Is there a God?’ ‘What does it mean to live a good life?’ In fact, many A-level programmes, and even school departments previously called ‘RE’ or ‘RS’, have changed their name to ‘Philosophy and Ethics’ to reflect this. Religion is perceived as an unattractive object of study, and the competition for candidates for public examinations against other curriculum subjects is fierce. There seems to be little doubt that the re-branding of the subject enabled by Curriculum 2000 (the last time the A-level curriculum was seriously re-written) has wrought benefits.

Read the rest <here>

Candle Conferences Survey Results

See the data collected by Charlotte Vardy:


A Meeting With the DfE

Charlotte Vardy writes: Following on from the meeting in Croydon on 6th December and the alternative proposal for A Level which emerged from that, I was invited to meet with representatives of the Department for Education (Harriet Becher, Stephen Kingdom and Helen O’Neill) yesterday afternoon. It was a long trip down to London from North Yorkshire, but one that was important to make on behalf of the many teachers who were not able to attend the events on 12th December.

After introductions, Harriet Becher asked me to explain our concerns about the consultation process and the proposals for GCSE and A Level Religious Studies…

Read the rest of the post <here>

Thursday, 18 December 2014

A Visit to the DfE by Andy Lewis

Last Friday (12th December 2015), I had my second visit to the Department for Education. Last time was to discuss EBT [Evidence Based Teaching] and this time for the #REconsult, a consultation on the new GCSE and A-Levels in Religious Studies. It has been the only such meeting of the 26 consultations that the DfE have conducted to date; in fact the meeting was held twice, during the day and again in the evening for those unable to get out of school.

During the meeting, I tried to make some notes which will hopefully explain some of the process that have been going on. These are my takes on the day and me sharing the information as best I can; I hope any colleagues that were there on the day can help correct or add to me. Please do this via comments at the bottom or via

The Aims of the Reform Process (not just RE!):
  • To address size and suitability of content.
  • To ensure appropriate level of challenge.
  • To enable progression to further study.
  • To review number of optional pathways through the qualification.
  • To balance breadth and depth of study.
  • To highlight any equality and diversity issues.
Read in full <here>

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Ofqual Webinar 17/12/14

Sadly the Ofqual webinar had some technical difficulties and they are trying to rearrange another session. In the meantime, they have provided their presentation slides:

Assessment arrangements for reformed religious studies qualifications from Ofqual Slideshare

They also promised to respond to questions submitted via or via their Twitter @ofqual 

Martin Thompson writes...

My reflections are based on my experience as a teacher of RE in a ‘secular’ non-selective academy where we are given the luxury of two hours a week to teach full course GCSE to the whole cohort. Our results last year were 85% A*-C (of which 53% were A*-A) – one of the best set of results across the whole school. We have highly motivated and positive pupil population, and the subject highly regarded by SLT, colleagues, pupils and parents/carers alike.

The revised content provides opportunities for pupils to study religion, contemporary philosophical and ethical issues in much greater depth than under the current specifications. I am encouraged to see that pupils will be taught much more about why people believe what they believe, and how that impacts their daily lives. I am also thoroughly encouraged to see that pupils will have to study two religions. Our pupils already do this, but I believe this should be the standard for every school (and academy). We are based in a part of the UK which has little ethnic/cultural/religious diversity, so we should take seriously our role in broadening horizons wherever and whenever possible.

I welcome the focus on religious and philosophical texts, and hope that this means the end to passing exams with only 3 or 4 teachings learnt per religion. There are some concerns about the depth and rigour of the proposals, and perhaps indeed the necessity of studying material that should be covered by existing models of curriculum at KS3 - the basics of belief. I feel that exam specifications must go far beyond the description of these practices, and instead look at the theology and values embedded within them, and how they provide a lens for a believer to interpret the world.

It is a shame that Humanism isn't offered as a 'worldview' that can be studied as if a second religion, but at the same time understand the argument that there isn't a clear set of beliefs and values as expressed by the religions that are offered for study. It should, however, be explicitly mentioned within some element of the specifications, so that pupils are encouraged to explore it as a wider view of how people seek to make sense of their world.

Religious Education needs to contain rigorous and demanding content. It should challenge pupils in the same way as any other subject. It is our duty as teachers to make this relevant and to help pupils make sense of complex and diverse religious beliefs. I disagree that pupils will see this as irrelevant, and see a decline in the number of schools willing to offer the subject. I do believe, however, that we should seriously consider whether RE is a compulsory subject or not.

It is, of course, vital that religious beliefs are grounded in ethical issues. I would welcome specific content mentioning medical issues (such as IVF/Genetic Engineering) as pupils often find this the most interesting and stimulating/relevant subject to explore.

I am new to the teaching of the RS A-Level (offered as an option group at yr10/11). I would want to highlight the importance of maintaining the current link with ethical issues as pupils often find this the most stimulating part of their studies. Aside from this, religious and philosphical worldviews are only ever useful if they help people make sense of the world (issues and situations) in which they find themselves. Academic theological and philosophical studies must never lose sight of this purpose, simply pursuing knowledge for the sake of it. Application of belief or value system is vital, and the AS/A Level must reflect this and provide pupils with rich and meaningful opportunities to explore this.

AQA Religious Studies Survery

he draft subject criteria for GCSE Religious Studies was published by the DfE on 7 November. A consultation on these criteria is now live. We would encourage all teachers to engage with this consultation.

The two main features of the criteria are:
- students must study two religions
- there must be a decision on the balance of the study of the religions alongside textual studies or Religion, Philosophy and Ethics in the modern world.

The models are illustrated below. (Image taken from Reformed GCSE and A level subject content consultation: Government consultation)

AQA would really like to know what you'd like a specification designed around these criteria will look like. Please click on the 'next' button below the image to begin the survey.

Take the survey: <here>

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

The Purpose of RE: #REconsult

Andy Lewis writes...

If nothing else the #REconsult process has made us confront some fundamental questions about RE. It has an individual place in our schools being compulsory, but not in the National Curriculum, with syllabuses agreed locally or taken from faith traditions. Perhaps more so than with any subject it’s quality and purpose varies greatly.

Charlotte Vardy has been very actively involved on Twitter and in Blogging about her thoughts on the #REconsult process. I do genuinely share her belief that if something is worth doing, it should be done well. However it is also important to remember that we are at the absolute mercy of the DfE and ministers appointed to Education. Michael Gove has gone, but Nicky Morgan has not made any radical changes to the whole reform process, and who knows what happens if Tristram Hunt takes over in May. Education is not apolitical.

Read more <here>

Nicky Morgan Workload Phone-In 15/12/14

What are we trying to achieve?

Charlotte Vardy writes...

Spending time reflecting on #reconsult so far in preparation for meeting with the Department for Education on Thursday afternoon…

It occurred to me that the confusion over the purpose of RS, highlighted in recent posts, is the real problem here.

Which of the following claims about Religious Studies is true – and which of the true claims most important and least?
  1. Religious Studies is where we teach young people about their own religion, which includes reference to other religions and non-religious world views.
  2. Religious Studies supports young people in their quest for personal meaning.
  3. Religious Studies supports the school ethos, provides a “hub” for SMSC learning and a good opportunity to tackle many current issues of personal or social concern – from cyber-bullying to charity campaigning.
  4. Religious Studies is just another academic humanities subject, like History or Geography
  5. Religious Studies is what we call History of Ideas and/or Theory of Knowledge in the English education system, which otherwise lacks a philosophical core
  6. Religious Studies provides the best opportunity to teach higher level skills such as critical analysis, evaluation and argument, which all students need for university and which other subjects often fail to deliver
  7. Religious Studies courses prepare young people to take degrees in Theology and Religious Studies
  8. Religious Studies is just what we call certificated courses in statutory Religious Education; these courses measure how much young people know and understand about the 6 major world religions and aim to promote religious tolerance and community cohesion.
  9. Religious Studies is a sociological exploration of the phenomenon of Religion, comparing different traditions and showing them to be essentially similar responses to the human condition.
  10. Religious Studies is the main opportunity for young people to address ultimate questions and moral issues which affect people of all faiths and none.
Read the rest of the article <here>

Sunday, 14 December 2014

My final word on the RS A Level consultation?

Bob Bowie writes...

Lets be absolutely clear. I think the GCSE RS changes are admirable. I have nothing more to say about that.

I note that there are valiant efforts to engage with the teaching profession from both the DfE, organisations like Candle conferences and the social networks found on Save RE and the Consult blog, for example. This is all admirable.

The key is to devise an intelligently structured way of engaging philosophy, theology and religious studies. That should include some ethics, be it moral theology, philosophical ethics or religious ethics. I think the revised proposal from the teachers who met together recently at the event organised by Candle conferences is an excellent proposal. I urge you to look at it and then let the DfE know what you think, through the consultation mechanism.

'Teaching humanism in religious studies will fail pupils'

Making RE lessons relevant to students suggests that identifying with, rather than studying a belief system, should be the aim of religious education, writes David Ashton
In response to the Department for Education’s recently proposed GCSE religious education criteria, Maxine Beech, an RE teacher, claimed thatmany students find it hard to engage with religious studies, because they are unable to relate to the content.

Ms Beech argues that humanism is an answer to this, saying: "[pupils] have the right to study a way of life that reflects their own."

This is the view of the British Humanist Association (BHA) who argue that rather than having to teach about two religions at GCSE, schools should have the option of teaching one religion and humanism. They claim, “it is vital that religious education remains relevant to young people … this means including non-religious world views. RE struggles to engage these young people when their beliefs are excluded.”

Read more <here>

Inconsistent approach from Catholic Education Service

Charlotte Vardy writes...

Those of you teaching in Catholic Schools will be aware that the CES officially welcomed the DfE proposals for GCSE and A Level Religious Studies back on the 7th November.

Although TRS departments from Catholic Universities WERE involved in the drafting of DfE proposals, we believe that unqualified support from the CES, Bishops and Schools is misplaced and inconsistent with the Religious Education Curriculum Directory, in terms of its stated the aims for Religious Education (p6):

Read all <here>

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Alternative GCSE idea…

Charlotte Vardy has also been working on this...

Given the extreme shortage of time, it has been impossible to arrange a meeting for teachers of GCSE Religious Studies or to work extensively with colleagues on an alternative proposal as we have with the A Level proposal. Nevertheless, colleagues have serious concerns about the GCSE proposal, which they have voiced to us, and we would like to do something to help shape thinking as we all respond to the DfE proposal.

The following is my attempt to address the DfE priorities which are, again, to increase rigour and relevance to the study of religion, to enhance progression from KS3 and to A Level and university, to reduce options and routes through the subject, cutting costs and making the qualifications easier to standardize.

Clearly, this will not meet with everyone’s approval – but ask yourself, is this more integrated, balanced approach better than what the DfE is currently proposing? Would it support you in recruiting and retaining students and offering the opportunity of meaningful RE to a decent proportion post-14?

You might guess that I have been influenced by the old OCR paper “Christian Perspectives on World Issues” – which similarly specified some texts to study to inform discussion of the issues, and similarly covered some aspects of religious belief and practices. I have amplified this and applied to other religions – hence Jewish perspectives, Islamic perspectives etc. would be integrated with a study of those religions. Non-religious world views are specified in every topic which allows for that. I am not a fan of pushing humanism into the mold of a religion and trying to consider humanist practices, texts, sources of authority etc – but it is VITAL that an atheistic framework is considered thoroughly, including how its perspectives are similar and different from religious perspectives in relation to, for example, ultimate reality, world and human origins, nature and purpose of human life, sanctity of life etc.

For what it is worth, I would really like to teach this alternative! I think it would be engaging, challenging and would excite a good number of students, although it is definitely not traditional “philosophy and ethics” I admit, the proportion of marks, numbers of topics etc. probably need more thought.

Read the full document <here>

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Charlotte Vardy: Student Surveys

Charlotte Vardy is conducted some research into GCSE and A-Level Students:

GCSE Religious Studies [Y9-11]:
A-Level Religious Studies [Y12-13 and Leavers]:

Please remember this info is going to Charlotte and is not part of the official consultation. This must be done via:

*NEW* Alternative A Level Proposal - posted by Charlotte Vardy

Charlotte has posted this update via the Candle Conference blog:

Following on from discussions with colleagues up and down the country, particularly with the many who gave up their Christmas shopping time to come to Croydon on Saturday, we have produced this alternative proposal for AS and A Level Religious Studies.

The alternative proposal addresses many of the concerns which have been voiced about the existing proposals...

To be clear, maintaining the status quo is simply not an option going forward; we have to make some tough choices or they will be made for us in a way which does not consider the unique character of our subject, the practicalities we face or the needs of the full range of students. Surely it is better to focus on what is popular and marketable, what students really value, what is academically rigorous and packed with HOT skills, rather than leading on what only a few are going to want to study or be equipped to teach, imparting an arbitrary body of knowledge according to a largely discredited ideological approach when doing so will not even fulfill the stated aims of doing so? Surely it is better to build on areas in which most teachers have solid expertise, real enthusiasm and tried-and-tested resources than to push the vast majority into open water and watch students’ learning outcomes suffer for years as we play catch up?

Read it all in full <here>

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

#REconsult Events


Friday 12th December

  • DfE Open Consultation - 11.00am to 3.30pm [London]
  • DfE Open Consultation - 5.00pm to 7.00pm [London]
Wednesday 17th December

A number of teachers have coordinated themselves to organise their own events up and down the country. There is still time to meet and discuss this with other teachers. You are encouraged to do this to help you fill in consultation feedback documents, particularly if you are not sure what is being asked of you. Email your local schools, ask your local NATRE group, discuss via online networks (Facebook / Twitter)... 

A former RS A-Level student and current Philosophy undergrad writes...

Response from Tom Hewlett, a former RS student at John Hampden Grammar School who is currently studying Philosophy at the University of Bristol. [Edited from email response]

Firstly, it seems like it is now much more explicitly an RS GCE, which is fine as it goes. But, I think it would be great if someone could stress to the exam boards just how much demand there is for an actual Philosophy GCE. There simply isn't any provision, and hence the A-level does not prepare students for undergraduate level study of Philosophy, which is what a lot of students take this subject for. In all fairness though, it looks like a better RS A-level than we did. (Although it is worse for Philosophy)

Secondly, I have a concern left over from the old syllabus. It seems like students can still take 2 out of 3 of the GCE units while never actually reading an original text. In fact, even in Textual Studies, there will be a large amount of learning where students are expected to simply absorb what their teacher tells them someone else thought. Say they are going to study Guthrie on Christology. Will they read Guthrie, or their teacher's summary of what Vardy said he was saying?

If they are not expected understand the words of Guthrie, who is not a very technical writer, then my inclination is to say that they are inevitably expected not to understand the original ideas in their full complexity. Instead, what is learnt (as when we were supposed to be able to mention the key tenets of the flipping Tractatus) is a simplification thereof.

Simply, my concern is that there is no expectation students will read original texts, eg short papers or chapters from fairly accessible writers like Mill, maybe Hume or Ayer. This is really, really bad preparation for undergraduate study. A remedy would be to look at simpler ideas which are clearly expressed such that sixth formers can understand them in the original. But this would require studying fewer ideas, so I expect the consequent lack of breadth would be rejected.

Basically the whole thing needs to be rethought from the start if it wishes to address the concerns people have about the purpose of RS, but as there is simply not enough time for that, these are the two things I think are vaguely useful feedback. STUDENTS SHOULD BE READING PRIMARY SOURCES!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Thoughts on the proposed changes to RE

Karin Oster writes...

Tired after a long but productive day yesterday, when I met up with other RS practitioners at Trinity School in Croydon discussing the DfE reconsult, so many thoughts are running through my head. This is intended to be a clarification of some of those thoughts. Others have written at length about the problems regarding the content of the proposal, questioning the agenda behind these changes and the rushed timescale of the whole consultation process. Yesterday Charlotte and Peter Vardy’s alternative Alevel proposal was debated, criticised and improved on: I would encourage all to read this carefully. My department and I will be writing our own response to the DfE consultation and send it to our MP and head teacher as well.

This morning I keep thinking about a question that was put forward yesterday, which suggested RS as a subject and we as practitioners are in a state of identity crisis. I think this is the heart of the matter. As I see it is an identity crisis on three levels:

1. The content of what we teach: World religions or Philosophy and Ethics?
2. The place of the subject in the secondary curriculum: Compulsory RE or academic RS?
3. The purpose of our teaching: Teaching about religion, from religion or promoting a political agenda?

The first aspect of the identity crisis has become very obvious in the debates surrounding the DfE consultation. It seems that RS teachers are either of the “we should teach world religions in a phenomenological way” or “we should teach Philosophy and Ethics” camp. This divide has been further exasperated by the first group being supported by organisations / interest groups and others, while the second one has no similar organisation. Without organisation, the views of P&E teachers seem to have been overlooked by the DfE, as is evident in the content proposed for GCSE and A-level. I am not sure there needs to be such a divide. I think we are all passionate about teaching good RS and let us be honest, there is some bad RE teaching out there.

Where the disagreement lies is more about what constitutes good RS. If we for a moment put aside our own personal preferences and take a holistic approach to good RS across the whole school curriculum, it seems that both world religions and P&E needs to be taught, and to be taught well. By using Bloom’s taxonomy as a model, it is obvious that when RS is taught using higher order skills such as evaluation, analysis and synthesis it is good RS. When reduced to the lower order skills of knowledge and comprehension, it becomes bad RS, regardless of what the content is. Using philosophical enquiry as a method for exploring different world religions at KS3, as my school currently does, enables to students to learn about and from different world religions in a manner that makes it interesting, relevant and challenging for them. Similarly, examining different ethical issues at KS4 allows students to understand as well as question their own views alongside a range of religious and non-religious views, thereby appreciating the complexities of current debates about ethics. If learning is seen as a spiral rather than linear process, A-levels can offer students an opportunity to either revisit RS content studied at a lower level or delve into new content in an academically rigorous manner, thus preparing them for further study at university in general or RS/Theology specifically. While it seems clear that the DfE wants to narrow down the choices of content at A-level, schools must have enough of a choice to select courses that are relevant and appealing for their students. I’m afraid I find it naïve that if we teachers were only passionate about our subjects, students would study anything at A-level, as someone suggested yesterday. The state sector in which I teach is very much driven by economics: if we don’t get enough numbers, we don’t run A-level courses. The numbers are dependent on more than teachers’ passion: it is dependent on what students (and parents) see as interesting and relevant. This will obviously differ from school to school and too narrow an A-level will not enable schools to make choices that are right for them.

It seems as if part of the problem we are facing is also to do with the contention between fulfilling the legal requirement of compulsory RE and finding a place for RS as a serious, academic subject alongside History for example. Due to the time restraints of the DfE consultation, the immediate focus must be on the content of the subject but in the long term the community of RS teachers do need to address this. How do we do justice to both? Is it even possible? If RS has to be compulsory would not an examined National Curriculum ensure both quality and status of the subject? I understand the historical reasoning behind allowing LEAs to develop their own syllabi but surely in today’s society, a consistency of content and quality will only enhance the importance and relevance of RS? While we can try to argue the case for said importance and relevance, what I really fear is that as long as we cannot come together as a community to agree on what we should teach and why we should teach, then RS will continue to be hijacked by political agenda’s to promote certain values, whether the benefits of multiculturalism, producing co-existence or enforcing so called “British values”. Our students deserve better than that.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

From bad to worse…

Charlotte Vardy continues her contributions to the #reconsult...

The more often I read the DfE’s proposed content for GCSE and A Level Religious Studies, the more I find that causes me real concern.

Tonight I copied the content of the three different elements of the proposed GCSE into the left hand column of a table and then pasted in the content of the three elements of the proposed AS/A Level. There is an amazing amount of overlap between the GCSE and the AS content.

I thought that a central aim of this process was to move on from the narrow focus of existing Philosophy of Religion and Ethics courses, forcing students to get a broader understanding of the subject. Why, then, has the subject matter of two of the three elements of the GCSE been almost entirely duplicated in the AS Level… and some of the content of the third option to boot? Sure, the level expected will be higher at AS or A, but that does nothing to broaden students’ appreciation of the subject.

Read the rest <here>

Friday, 28 November 2014

DfE: Open Consultation Event - 12th Dec

There is an open consultation event for practising RS teachers on 12th December at the Department for Education.

The Department for Education is keen to ensure the views of all stakeholders are reflected in the consultation. As well as submitting a written consultation response, we hope you will join us at a consultation event for teachers to give your views. Event details as follows:

Date: Friday 12 December
Time: 11.00 -15.30
Venue: Department for Education, Sanctuary Buildings, Great Smith Street, SW1P 3BT

Email by 5 Dec:

Some expenses may be covered.

*UPDATE* - If you are unable to attend the day event, please email to request an evening event. If sufficient people request this, DfE have said it will be facilitated.

Image courtesy of The Guardian

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Consultation on GCSE RS annex on Humanism

From the BHA:

We are seeking feedback on an Annex on Humanism that has been drafted by RE experts to be submitted for inclusion in the new GCSE religious studies subject content. The Annex covers the subject content outlined for part one of the programme of study, and is intended to provide for the study of Humanism as a non-religious worldview. Of necessity, it has to match the style of the seven annexes on religions that the Department for Education has included in its consultation.

What we are proposing

We are asking for the currently proposed requirement for students to study two religions to be amended so that students must study either two religions or one religion and one non-religious worldview, and for an Annex on Humanism to be added to sit alongside the seven existing annexes on religions. This is because we believe all young people should learn about a range of religions and non-religious worldviews and in practice Humanism is the only non-religious worldview that is significantly common to merit an Annex in its own right. We are also asking for textual amendments to other areas of the specifications in order to ensure that the language is inclusive throughout. We set these out in full, along with out our detailed reasoning, in our response to the Department for Education’s consultation, which you can see in draft form.

Read more, including consultation questions: <here>

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Prof Bob Jackson - Uni of Warwick

1) Seems to be some reluctance to teach about religion and belief. Are we embarrassed by it?

Bob: Quite a lot of my work over the past few years has been in the Council of Europe, which covers 47 European states, including the UK. Among those dealing with educational projects covering values, human rights, intercultural education, citizenship education etc the topic of religion and belief is absolutely central and of huge importance. There are various issues in teaching about religions and beliefs, but embarrassment at the topic certainly should not be one of them! Maybe some people are still confusing initiation into religion or belief with learning about religion and belief??

2) Some students we teach are not religious. This means they aren’t interested in studying religions and beliefs. Is this true?

Bob: The European Commission REDCo project (Religion, Education, Dialogue, Conflict) conducted research with 14 to 16-year-olds in eight different European nations, including England (the others were France, the Netherlands, Spain, Norway, Germany, Estonia and the Russian Federation). The great majority of students (whether or not from religious backgrounds) in the schools sampled in all countries expressed a wish to learn about religion and belief diversity, including the opportunity for discussion and exchange with peers in the ‘safe space’ of the classroom. There are issues here about ensuring that discussions and exchanges are conducted in a well-informed, positive and civil manner. Many students also expressed concern about media representations of religions and wanted help in unpacking and criticising these. These findings are reported and discussed in the various REDCo publications. A short cross section of reports can be found in a 2011 issue of the British Journal of Religious Education, now published as a Routledge paperback book (R. Jackson [ed] Religion, Education, Dialogue and Conflict: Perspectives on Religious Education Research). Discussion of these (the classroom as safe space; media representations of religions) and other issues, specifically focused on the needs of teachers, schools and teacher trainers, are discussed in a new Council of Europe publication on teaching about religions and beliefs. The book is called Signposts - Policy and practice for teaching about religions and non-religious world views in intercultural education. Further information is available at:

Research on students who identify themselves as ‘non-religious’ (e.g. by Simeon Wallis at Warwick) shows that students who tick the ‘non-religious’ box on a questionnaire have a wide variety of personal worldviews. This raises the question about the scope of the subject, which arguably should include both religious and non-religious systems of belief, and should cover personal worldviews as well as ‘organised’ religions and philosophies. Again, this issue is discussed in Signposts.

3) That a focused study of religion involves lower level skills that belong in KS3 and not at GCSE or A-level. Is that right?

Bob: No. Understanding religions and beliefs demands a high level of competence, which involves the acquisition of knowledge, the cultivation of appropriate attitudes, andespecially the acquisition of relevant skills. All of these should be developed at all stages of learning at an appropriate level. Again, the issue of competence – appropriate knowledge, skills and attitudes – is discussed in Signposts.

4) That the popularity of courses will fall if we approach religion using a wider range of approaches. Do you agree?

Bob: Not necessarily. The study of religions and beliefs is a wide-ranging field and the reduction of the subject to a single activity (studying only one religion, only doing philosophy, only studying texts) should be avoided. At the same time, attention needs to be given to what teachers are able to offer (there are implications here for degree courses and specialist professional training), and to student preferences. The general principle of including more than one approach and more than one religion is a good one. If the popularity goes down a bit and the quality goes up, the changes will be worth making.

5) That a focused study of religion and belief cannot be made interesting and engaging by skilled RE teachers. Do you agree?

Bob: No. The REDCo research suggests that teachers need to link what is covered to the interests and concerns of students as far as possible. My observation is that skilled religious education teachers are very capable of doing this.

Professor Robert Jackson PhD, DLitt, FAcSS
Warwick Religions and Education Research Unit (WRERU)
University of Warwick, UK, and
European Wergeland Centre, Oslo, Norway.

Monday, 24 November 2014

NATRE Executive member on the radio

On Sunday 23rd November Daniel Hugill, NATRE Executive member and Secondary School RE teacher was interviewed 11 times on local radio stations around the country. These interviews followed the Bible Society's recent report on the teaching of sacred text

If you would like to listen to these Radio Interviews please follow the links below. The times on the left should help you to locate the place in the programme where Daniel was interviewed;




0730 KENT




0808 WM LIVE



0845 Hereford and Worcester

Read more <here>

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Humanism and the proposed revisions to A level Religious Studies

When I first read the complaint by the British Humanist Association that Humanism had been left out of the proposed revised subject content for A level RS, I felt immediate sympathy for their position, for it seemed obvious that Humanism deserved to be studied alongside other religious traditions. I am still of that opinion, and feel that humanism can indeed to set alongside the traditional religions and should have its origins, beliefs and moral claims open to equal scrutiny.

But is all lost if it is not included? On reflection I’m not so sure, and wonder whether the proposed revisions may actually do a general humanist viewpoint a favour.

If by ‘religion’ we mean a set of beliefs, attitudes, values and ethics reflecting an understand of the place of humankind within the overall scheme of things, then Humanism can indeed be studied as a religion. It offers a clear set of values, an emphasis on moral responsibility and an approach to matters of belief that reflects rationalist and philosophical traditions going back to Ancient Greece. But…. and it is a major but… I believe there are two reasons why it may be best, from a humanist point of view, to accept the proposal on offer and not simply allow itself to be one of the possible religions, to be selected or ignored depending on the religious tradition of the school, the inclinations and qualifications of the teaching staff or the availability of teaching materials.

Read more <here>

ALAN’S BLOG – The GCSE debate: The resistance to studying religion – Alan Brine

This is Part 3 of my search to map the landscape of the debate around GCSE and maybe help us come closer together in our thinking.

This is possibly one of the most disturbing features of our recent discussions. A number of colleagues have said they don’t want to have to teach about religions at Key Stage 4 as part of a subject called ‘Religious Studies’. The punters will walk away! One person even posted on Facebook to say they didn’t want to return to having to teach religious studies in Religious Studies! Can you imagine a historian saying s/he doesn’t want to teach history in the History GCSE?

I think we do get it. If you reduce teaching about religions to dreary, bloated lists of content then it will be dull. Also we know that for many students the ‘religious view of the world’ is outmoded and lacking in credibility. We need to strongly acknowledge the ‘contested’ nature of religion in their learning.

What we have failed to do in recent years is find enough models of teaching about religion and religions which are engaging and which students see as relevant to questions they are asking. Many teachers say they can keep students’ interest in religions going through Key Stages 2 and 3 but feel it falls away by the time they get to Year 9.

Read more <here>

Meeting to discuss A Level Subject criteria…

A special meeting for all teachers of A Level Religious Studies will be held at Trinity School in Croydon on Saturday 6th December, between 10.30am and about 2pm, hosted by Esmond Lee, the Head of Religious Studies at Trinity (with the support of Mark Bishop, the Headmaster and himself an RS specialist)
This meeting will provide an opportunity to discuss the DfE and Ofqual consultation processes, as they relate to A Level Religious Studies, focusing on the Draft Subject Criteria for A Level Religious Studies. We hope that many colleagues will make time at a frenetic time of year to attend and contribute their ideas to the future of the subject we are all so passionate about. Both consultations close on 29th December 2014 – there is little time to consider and plan a response and, given that the DfE cancelled proposed consultation events, this will be a rare opportunity to meet with others on this hugely important issue.

Please do encourage all your contacts to attend as well. The more the merrier!

There is no charge for this meeting, which will include refreshments and a light lunch, but please RSVP to so we have numbers for catering etc.

See more <here>

Charlotte Vardy: From the heart…

Charlotte Vardy reflects on another week of #reconsult…

Recent contributions to #reconsult have belied a deep confusion about the nature and purpose of Religious Studies. Is RS, at GCSE and/or A Level, the same as legally required RE? Is it designed to prepare students with the knowledge and skills to embark on degrees in Theology specifically? Or, is RS at GCSE and/or A Level another beast entirely?

Some contributors to #reconsult actually believe that they are discussing the future of GCSE and/or A Level Religious Education. This may be a slip of the tongue or, it may be more significant.
If GCSE and/or A Level Religious Studies are simply certificated courses in RE then their content and skills should fulfil the legal brief of providing young people with the opportunity to learn about world religions and particularly about Christianity, the dominant local Religious tradition. However, the proposed content fails to do justice to the legal – or moral – brief.

Read the rest of the post <here>

GCSE RE Consultation Response – Mark Shepstone

GCSE RE Consultation Response – 

Mark Shepstone: Assistant Principal Hethersett Academy, Norfolk; NATRE Exec member 2013-2014; Head of RE & Citizenship 2011-2014. @MrShepstoneRE


Before I respond to the consultation document, perhaps I should set out my current thoughts on GCSE RS. We teach Edexcel GCSE (Units 2&8) to all students, in one hour per week across y10 &11 (starting after Easter in y9). The results we have got are very good, but I feel that the current GCSE spec is not fit for purpose. It is not challenging, doesn’t require an in depth understanding of either religious or moral issues, and does not give students a good idea about faith in the 21st century, the range of views within faiths, or of non-faith positions (beyond ‘some scientists disagree with religious people’ – you think?!)

The fact that I and many others teach this qualification in 1 hour a week highlights the lack of challenge in the GCSE. I have the pleasure of overseeing geography, history, Spanish and French in my SLT role and all of these GCSE are far more challenging than the RS one in terms of depth, challenge and range of knowledge and understanding needed at all levels. 

Finally, before I start, I should also declare my view on RS is that it should not be compulsory post-KS3, and that if it were not, we would have a far stronger argument for inclusion in measures like the EBacc and to be included in option blocks more widely. 


So, onto the consultation which asks ‘Is the revised GCSE content in religious studies appropriate?’ Broadly, I would say ‘yes’. Bit of a cop-out to leave it there, though, so I should probably give a bit more of an answer!


It obviously remains to be seen what the exam boards come up with, but based on the document I welcome the fact the new GCSE appears far more challenging than the fudge we can get away with now. There are numerous examples that could be cited, but that simple fact that the various sections (beliefs and teaching, sources of wisdom and authority, etc)  appear to be quite different in their content represent a much greater challenge than now, where a handful of teachings/quotes can be regurgitated in response to questions in nearly every topic. 


All candidates having to study 2 religions is a positive step. There is no reason to allow students to continue only to study one religion, even in faith schools. I welcome that all students will have to study (at least) 2 religions. I have considered the exclusion of humanism from the list of ‘religions’ and initially I was disappointed that it was not an option to be studied. However, it isn’t a faith, so I do wonder why it would seek to be part of RS. I would however hope to see non-faith positions examined and considered within the GCSE specifications, and would encourage the exam boards to include reference to humanism by way of contrasting the various faith positions studied. 

Comparison with other GCSEs

This consultation sees RS much more closely matched to other GCSE subjects, most notably geography and history. This is good for the standing of the subject, and can throw weight behind discussions of what should be in the EBacc. There are clearly implications of this, though…

Implications of the new GCSE

The main one is that it won’t be able to be done in one hour a week. This raises questions for all stakeholders in RE/RS, and the way the subject is treated. Firstly, if it is to remain compulsory (which it is for the foreseeable future), what will be taught in an hour per week? Short course is a possibility, although the value of this for performance measures has been reduced. Non-exam RE is of course an option, but this would set the subject back against the huge gains it has made in terms of exam entries and value to students and schools. What I think should happen is that RS is a compulsory option (ie, it must be offered) in all schools for GCSE, but is no longer something that all students should have to study.

A knock on of this will be that fewer students study RS/RE to 16. Not ideal, but I feel that it is a trade-off that we need to embrace in order to have our subject viewed with the same level of respect as other comparable GCSE. Historians would love everyone to study history, I am sure, but accept that they can’t. Why should we be different?

So, in summary:

I like the changes

You can’t do the new GCSE in an hour a week

Fewer students will study GCSE RS

This isn’t a problem



Thursday, 20 November 2014

ALAN’S BLOG – The GCSE Debate: The ‘problem’ of philosophy and ethics – Alan Brine

This is Part 2 of my search to map the landscape of the debate around GCSE a little more and maybe help us come closer together in our thinking. (For Part 1, see:

‘Problem’ is in italics – clearly there is nothing problematic about P&E. Indeed as Kate Christopher reminds us: ‘The only way is ethics!’

But we have a major problem with our traditional curriculum in England – it is defined by a set of subjects which have not really been refreshed or re-thought for decades. Up to the end of Key Stage 4 it doesn’t include any significant provision for philosophy, economic, politics, sociology etc. It is also resistant to cross-curricular working.

In recent years, as RE lost confidence in its traditional subject matter, it looked around for content that might prove popular and relevant. And as a result there has been a tendency to ‘dump’ issues-based and cross-curricular topics into RE.This process was accelerated by the Short Course (and for over a decade there have only been short courses!). It has also had an effect on the Key Stage 3 provision in many schools with a growth in GCSE-style issues-based courses in Years 7-9.

Catholic Education Service: RE Consultation Response Toolkits

On 7 November the DfE and Ofqual published three documents for consultation on the reform of Religious Education at GCSE and A/AS Level.. Both Ofqual and the DfE are inviting responses to their consultations and so there are two consultation response forms, one for Ofqual and one for the DfE.

Below are three documents produced by the CES to assist and encourage schools and dioceses to respond to the two consultations document. They contain a summary and explanation of the key contents of the consultation documents along with a reading guide and questions to help dioceses and schools focus on how they are going to respond to the consultation.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

'Teach humanism in religious studies

As a teacher passionate about religious education, my heart sank when I recently read about the draft subject content for religious studies GCSEs and A-levels.

Last academic year I spent one day a week working on a research project – funded by the University of Oxford-based Farmington Institute – to develop resources for teaching humanism in religious education. It has transformed my teaching.

The starting point for my research was my students. 77 per cent of them, almost 300 young people aged 11-18, identify themselves as “not religious” (when defined as “not believing in god”).

They don’t automatically identify themselves as “humanists”, but then many had never heard of the word before I taught them. They did not know their views and beliefs were represented by anyone.

Read full article <here>

Prof David Horrell writes...

Most HE institutions admitting students to degrees in theology and religious studies do not require RS A-level, so are not presuming certain areas of knowledge in advance – unlike many other degree subjects. The syllabuses are so varied that this would be difficult in any case. But there is a strong case for doing all we can to ensure that students come to degrees in TRS with appropriate skills and expectations as far as possible. In that regard, certain features of the new proposals seem to me very positive.

The proposal to include significant elements of “textual studies” seems to me – though challenging – a good way to try to get students to grapple with the important issues about the interpretation and influence of sacred texts. That would certainly be a good (“hermeneutical”) skill to bring to a University degree in TRS (often lacking at present). But it will need good resources and careful “marketing” to make it attractive to school students – if it looks like “Bible study” (or other equivalents) it will only attract a certain group of the committed. The same goes for systematic studies of religious beliefs and practices.

The dominance of philosophy and ethics in the current system means that many students (mistakenly) have the impression they are studying “Philosophy and Ethics” as subjects in their own right, and thus consider, say, Philosophy at University, when the A-level they are actually doing is RS, and the specific kind of philosophy they are interested in is philosophy of religion. This is in part a reflection of the difficulty of “selling” study of “religion” to school students, which is itself unfortunate and needs addressing: it should be perfectly possible to make it attractive, interesting and relevant to study religion and its forms, expressions, influences, in the world today; and in the present time the importance of nuanced and informed understanding of religions should be pretty clear.

Of course, this needs to be divorced from any idea that RS or RE is about encouraging “religiosity” or “spirituality”, which, I suspect emerges partly because of the blurred line between studying religion and encouraging a religious ethos or faith, which is explicit in schools with a Church foundation (many primary schools in England, and some secondaries). One promising approach is the emphasis on “religious literacy”, that is, making the case that to function competently and sensitively in contemporary society one needs some kind of nuanced understanding of religion(s), not least in order to negotiate critically the media portrayals that shape our perceptions. That also implies that understanding of more than one religious tradition is important, not least in the context of contemporary Britain.

Although both A-level and degree level specifications allow a focus on only one religion, I do wonder whether some understanding of the diverse matrix of contemporary religions and their interactions with so-called “secular” societies ought to be part of any advanced course of study – though I write this as a New Testament scholar who has focused mostly on Christian (and Jewish) traditions.

David Horrell
Professor of New Testament Studies
Director, Centre for Biblical Studies
University of Exeter

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

In case you missed it #REchatUK on draft GCSE reform

We had an extraodinary #REchatUK last night to hear what you and others have to say about the proposed GCSE/A level RS Exam criteria.

In case you missed it, we have captured the conversation for you here.

#REchatUK is facilitated by NATRE, usually monthly, on the first Monday of the month 8-9pm.

Follow us on @NATREupdate.

Origianlly posted:

Monday, 17 November 2014

#REChatUK - Prompt Questions from 17th November 2014

@NATREupdate #REChatUK Questions - 17th November 2014

These questions are a record of the questions asked during #rechatuk on #reconsult.

Please do continue to share your views using the hashtag #reconsult. Also consider submitting a blog with your reactions, and suggestions.

Remember to take part in the DfE and Ofqual formal consultation process – it is vital that they hear from teachers.


1. What do you think about the GCSE proposals? Some further questions and links will follow that you may wish to consider. #REChatUK #reconsult

2. What do you think about the two religions? p.8 (4.2) #REChatUK #reconsult

3. Within study of rel. what should the comp topics be? P.5 (11) #REChatUK #reconsult

4. Do you think that non-rel. world views should feature? Annex A #REChatUK #reconsult

5. Are the topics for the study of religion right? What is missing or unnecessary? P5 (11) #REChatUK #reconsult

6. Are the themes for texts and P&E right? What is missing or unnecessary? p.6-8 #REChatUK #reconsult

7. In the Ofqual proposal do you think that assessment objectives are right? P.8/9 #REChatUK #reconsult

8. In the development of specifications how would you like to see the various elements integrated by AOs? #REChatUK #reconsult

9. What do you not want to see in these specifications? #REChatUK #reconsult

You can find links to both consultations here @dfe and here @ofqual


What do you think about the A-level proposals? Some further questions and links will follow that you may wish to consider. #REChatUK #reconsult

1. What do you think about the move to include or integrate a systematic study of religions into A-level? (p.10/11) 4.8 –  #REChatUK #reconsult

2. What are your views about the move to reduce both P&E and put them together? P.2/3 #REChatUK #reconsult

3. Is the content for Philosophy of Religion right? What is missing or unnecessary? p.2/3 #REChatUK #reconsult

4. Is the content for Ethics right? What is missing or unnecessary? p.2/3 #REChatUK #reconsult

5. Is the content/approach within the study of rel. right? What is missing or unnecessary? p.2 #REChatUK #reconsult

6. Is the content/approach with textual studies right? What is missing or unnecessary? p. 3/4 #REChatUK #reconsult

7. In the Ofqual proposal do you think that assessment objectives are right? P.10/11 #REChatUK #reconsult

8. In the development of specifications how would you like to see the various elements integrated by AOs? #REChatUK #reconsult

9. What do you not want to see in these specifications? #REChatUK #reconsult

You can find links to both consultations here @dfe and here @ofqual

THINK PIECE – Thoughts on the GCSE RE Proposals – David Ashton

A Reminder of the Problem

Earlier this year I wrote a blog titled ‘Why GCSE RE Fails Pupils.’ It illustrated how poor content and perverse assessment in popular GCSE RE courses, neglect and distort religion, and argued that the number of routes available to achieve a GCSE in RE has encouraged a race to the bottom and rendered the notion of it as a qualification meaningless. Yet, whilst the current GCSE situation may be indefensible, it is not without its perks for some. It is therefore, no surprise, that as proposals for a future, more rigorous GCSE emerge, previously masked fears and vulnerabilities are surfacing.

A Head of RE once recounted to me how at the start of year INSET, her headteacher had given her a bottle of wine and praised her. The reason for this was that both she personally and also her RE department, had achieved the best GCSE residuals in the school. Requests to observe her soon poured in from other teachers asking ‘how do you get such great results in an hour a week?’ ‘How do you get the children so engaged in your subject?’ After weeks of dodging observation requests, and pretending that she possessed some sort of magic beans, she decided to come clean. Whenever a colleague asked if they could observe her GCSE lessons, she gave them an exam paper and mark scheme and told them that if they still wanted to watch her after reading it, they would be welcome. No one came. Whilst admirably, this teacher was honest, others have ridden the wave of dumbed down courses, in order to enhance their reputation and responsibilities, and even to elevate themselves into senior leadership roles. These are the Deputy Heads, who wink at the RE teachers on GCSE results day, insiders on the secret, the great charade.

Read full article <here>

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Laura, an A2 student, writes...

It is tragic to see Governmental reforms determine the fate of such an interesting and useful subject; if these changes are implemented, Philosophy and Ethics will become, without a doubt, a "studentless" subject! After having studied the Philosophy and Ethics courses, both at GCSE level and currently at A-level standard, I can definitely say that the 50% balance between the two disciplines has allowed me to understand their significance and relevance as individual subjects.  
Equally, although we must learn certain parts of different religious scripture in order to attain the top bands, we need to continue the deeper study of the aforementioned subjects so that we may fully understand the meaning of religious quotations.
Additionally, if these new reforms are introduced, the rates of employability for students who study this subject will dramatically decrease; employers will prefer candidates who have more knowledge in Philosophy and Ethics, rather than mainly Scripture, as the former equips candidates with transferable skills that last a lifetime. 
If anyone of importance or in an influential position is reading this, we implore you – stop these new reforms from destroying a fantastic subject!

Laura Connelly (A2 Student of Philosophy and Ethics, Finham Park School) 

Debbie Lewis writes...

I’ve deliberated over the new proposals long and hard and have mixed feelings.


As far as A Level is concerned, I wholeheartedly endorse the return to what I see as pure common sense, i.e. that the study of religion should be explicit to any qualification that is labelled “Religious Studies” and that in this world (of eg. ISIL - where textual interpretation is key and the Christian Right – where the sociology of religion is key) it is absurd to suggest that studying religion is passé and dull. 


Respected colleagues have covered most of what I wanted to say re content – and extremely eloquently, so a plea to anyone reading this is to regard it as seconding their blogs/responses. 

·         Denise Cush - re A Level as preparation for reading for a Theology/RS degree

·         Sheila Butler - re concerns about exam boards being able to translate these proposals (if unchanged,  into vibrant specs

·         Alan Brine - re some great alternatives

·         Bethany Kelly – who responded to Daniel’s 5 questions exactly as I would have – almost word for word!


My dismay at reading the responses so far is that it seems to me that rather than the government, higher education institutions and local faith communities collaborating with exam boards and schools to provide the very best to pupils, we have instead a conflict of interests – with our pupils potentially becoming the victims.


The higher education perspective represented by Denise Cush might be applauded by school departments that feel reasonably secure – either due to the faith school bias, to SMT’s treating the subject well or to having a strong specialist subject team and visionary leadership. Such departments might have good reason to suppose that a Theology or RS degree might be a possibility for some of their cohort and will want their pupils to be as well-prepared as possible, so that their expectations are realistic and they will transfer smoothly and go on to achieve excellent degrees. We send several pupils to read for such degrees at Russell Group universities each year and breadth of options is always the attraction. Surely what makes our subject so unique is just how multi-faceted it is and that although ideas are key – so are the holders of those ideas and their religious history.


Yet on the other hand, many departments have wholeheartedly put all their eggs in the philosophy and ethics baskets, thereby reducing our wonderfully wide-ranging, dynamic subject to just two possibilities. Maybe this is – or started as – a bid to get bums on seats. Maybe they found this the way (though goodness knows how, in today’s world it’s the only way) to convince SMT’s and pupils of the validity, both intellectual and otherwise, of the subject – and hereby lies the conflict of interest; subject justification, department survival and teacher jobs at stake. If this is the case, potential university theologians become low priority. Many AL teachers have never taught a religious text before, (if they have ever studied one at all) and are frightened of what they don’t know (and presume they can’t engage with in a dynamic, inspirational way).  Many do not like change. (I can remember attending all AQA’s twilight courses in London for what was the new Unit 4 about 5 years ago. I was excited at finally being able to teach new, cutting edge stuff such as Religion in Contemporary Society, Religious Fundamentalism ( - oi, SMT’s, Ms Morgan et don’t get much more relevant than that!) or Religuion in Art and the media - and not just being required to re-invent old wheels. As I expected, the best attended meeting by far was the Philosophy option, but to my dismay, none of the teachers present actually wanted any change at all – raising all possible objections to a downhearted principal examiner. 


Here’s my issue with the new A Level proposals. In my department, we do want to continue teaching what Denise Cush suggested was ideal – three areas - text AND the phenomenon of a religion AND the sociology of religion, as we do now. Like Sheila Butler, my fear is that the proposals are too prescriptive to allow the exam boards the flexibility to be creative – and come up with something really versatile and attractive. Were they able to do this, my phil/ethics fan colleagues might also find some happiness.


My real disappointment lies with the GCSE proposals. Consistent with my desire for RS to focus on religion, I should be happy; but I’m not. 


It seems to me that in its desire to make sure our nation doesn’t become too programmed with religious fundamentalist dogma, it’s been recognised that, ever so surprisingly (OK, said with sarcasm) we RS teachers do have a role to play. So what to do? Squeeze all existing possibilities by bunging in religion 2? Well, this lacks any vision whatsoever and Alan Brine has come up with much more creative possibilities than I ever could. If his suggestions are ignored, all I would plead is that we remain with two 50% units, rather than unnecessarily sub-dividing units in the unimaginative, dreary, implicitly comparative, overly theoretic way suggested ( - and I dread to think what the supporting textbooks might be like, especially if they are rushed through!) 


Here’s a suggestion: why not offer as 

·         unit 1 - the study of the phenomenon of one religion as 50%  

·         Unit 2  - the choice of a range of other possibilities (from philosophy, ethics, a 2nd religion, text etc) but make the boards prescribe specifically and explicitly rigorous religious content for each, with the proviso that the religious angle must be from one different religion to that studied in Unit 1?


My last shot is to teachers of RS/RE; philosophy and ethics do not sell the subject. YOU do....or you certainly should!


Debbie Lewis