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Enquiry based learning

In this syllabus the planning of units of work is based on the ‘enquiry/conceptual’ approach as one effective method of the delivery of RE at all key stages.  This does not rule out other approaches, as teachers may deem appropriate.

Traditionally RE topic titles have tended to suggest that there was a distinctive religious ‘content’ or ‘group of facts or ideas’ to be taught. That content is nearly always identified as a body of information about an organised religion or about several organised religions.

For example, a topic like, ‘Special Buildings’, might suggest a series of lessons about different places of worship. In the absence of anything to indicate otherwise, the lessons might be considered effective if they helped young children learn about the layout and furniture that is typically seen in various buildings like a church, a mosque, or a gurdwara.

Having completed the topic an important indicator of progress would be counted as children’s knowledge of ‘the facts’. In other words, a child might be said to have made progress if they could identify and describe the font, the lectern, the altar; the mihrab, the minaret, the dome, the takht, the palki and the langar. Similarly, if the topic title was called, ‘Sacred Writings ’ the expectation might be that young children would learn about the names of the ‘holy books’ and three or four exemplary stories from different faiths.

For example, they might be told the parable of the mustard seed (Matt 13 v 31-32, Lk 13 v 18-19), the story of Moses (Exodus), or the story of Rama and Sita (Ramayana).

Having been taught the topic an important indicator of progress would be that the children would be able recall those stories. Knowledge in RE is important and should not be dismissed. Nevertheless, if the impression we give young children is that RE is mainly about acquiring knowledge about the religions we are in danger of failing effectively to challenge young people and to engage them with important concepts and self – reflective skills . This is particularly true for children who do not identify themselves with an organised religion.

If the subject appears to be mainly to do with knowledge about the religions why should the subject be of any great interest to them? Ofsted’s 2006 – 2009 report on RE entitled, ‘Transforming Religious Education’ draws attention to this issue. It claims that in many primary RE lessons rather than probing into the religious material itself to encourage independent thought and reflection, teachers introduced challenge by asking children to undertake activities which were of a practical or of an artistic kind.

A typical example of the above which Ofsted describes is a Y2 lesson. After hearing about the story of Rama and Sita the class were divided into four groups and each group worked on a separate task. One group were asked to produce a short play based on the story. The second group were asked to create a poster about one of the key characters in the story. The third group were asked to use pictures with speech bubbles to sequence the events and the fourth group were asked to develop a simple celebratory dance, using Indian music. All of the above activities are essentially about recalling the story of Rama and Sita. Ofsted commented that the children participated well. They enjoyed the activities and used a variety of creative skills.  What they did not explore were the qualities displayed by the characters e.g. Sita’s faithfulness at risk of her own life, Rama’s respect for his father’s wishes, Lakshman’s loyalty as a brother, Hanuman’s loyal support of Rama and how the epic ‘pictures’ the struggle between good and evil ‘light’ and ‘darkness’ encountered by all in the course of everyday life. There was no reflection on whether the epic suggests ways in which the children should think about love of family, loyalty to friends etc.  There was valuable and interesting learning about religion but not the corresponding learning from religion which is an equally essential component of RE.  In other words, teaching RE involves constantly raising the question ‘What may this mean for me and the way I live and behave?’