Why clarifying purpose is essential….

Like many colleagues I have read the Westminster Faith Debates report A New Settlement: Religion and Belief in schools (Clarke and Woodhead) with interest. It has in fact been the inspiration for writing my first blog! Although the report explores collective worship, faith schools and religious education, this blog post focuses on the latter.

Working for a number of different organisations means that they all bring different perspectives to the report. This is a strength, in that it allows me to try and see clearly where my own professional views lie. It means I consider a range of opinions and rationales. However, it has also been extremely hard, as there are tensions between some of these organisations in terms of the outcomes they want to see as a result. I have had some internal wrestlings!

However, after a couple of weeks of trying to work out what I really think, something became very clear to me last week whilst working with teachers in different contexts. There is something to be said for the reality of the ‘chalkface’.

So for me, it all comes down to purpose. Yes, I know this has been said before…but I believe this even more strongly now than ever before.

I have enjoyed reading the various blogs about religious literacy in the last month via #blogsyncRE Within these blogs there is a variety of views about what we mean by religious literacy, but this is a healthy debate. My own view, put very simply (I find most teachers like a straightforward definition!) is that RE is about:

understanding the nature of religious language
understanding the reality of religion and belief in the 21st Century
understanding the impact of religion and belief on people
enquiring into religion and belief i.e. asking questions, exploring the nature of religion itself…

(My paraphrase of Ofsted: Realising the Potential 2013)

The definitions of instruction, formation and religious education in the report ( p.33-34) are helpful I think. However, as someone who works in many Church of England schools, I also believe that RE (as defined on p.34 of the report) can sit within a wider context of formation i.e the Christian ethos. However, this context of formation must be articulated in such a way that it is not exclusive, but is inclusive of all. I have created a powerpoint about this for church schools in Norwich Diocese (see the link below).

The RE defined on p.34 is one I recognise. It stresses criticality, dialogue and enquiry in terms of pedagogy. This is why the suggestion in the report that religious education should become Religious and Moral Education ( RME) sits uncomfortably with me. I am not sure why this would be ‘more accurate’ as the report claims. RME suggests values and SMSC development, not RE as I see it! I think most likely this would cause more confusion and misconceptions. I think a term like religious studies, might actually be more accurate. Although various other suggestions have been made…!

Most of the rest of the report, to me, comes down to this single question…what is RE about? What is it for? I realise this may be a simplistic view! However, until we have clarity of purpose as an RE community the following questions….will I fear remain questions…

Questions about a National Curriculum for RE depend on agreement about purpose, because unless we know what the purpose of RE is we will not be able to agree on its content. My personal view… I agree with a National Curriculum of some kind, but it needs a clear rationale.

Questions about the function of SACREs or a National SACRE depend on agreement about purpose because unless we know what the purpose of RE is we will not be able to make a clear case for change in terms of how the curriculum is agreed and how it is monitored. My personal view.. I am not convinced by a National SACRE, but not convinced about local ones either!

Questions about the right to withdraw… depend on agreement about purpose because then a clear message can be given to all stakeholders about why it is important that all children and young people study RE; a universal understanding of the subject is created. My personal view… I think the right to withdraw should be abolished at the earliest opportunity.

Questions about RE at KS4 and 5 depend on agreement about purpose, because this will shape what and how the subject is taught. My personal view…I have mixed views on this one….and shall reserve judgement currently!!

We must get the purpose right. It must be right for all. Not easy, but I believe perfectly possible.

The views expressed above are my own and do not represent any organisation I work for.

Useful Links:

Click to access A-New-Settlement-for-Religion-and-Belief-in-schools.pdf


Click to access February_2015_RE_and_christian_ethos.pdf

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I’m an independent Religious Education Consultant. I work mainly in the Eastern Region for the Diocese of Norwich, and also for Culham St Gabriel’s Trust managing their TeachRE course. The views here are my own, and do not represent any of the organisations I work for.

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