Warwick University Resources Review

January 2010: A response from the RE Council to:

Materials used to Teach about World Religions in Schools in England

The RE Council of England and Wales welcomes the publication of this major study, commissioned and funded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families and produced by the Warwick Religions and Education Research Unit, at the University of Warwick. The team was led by Prof Robert Jackson.  

Click here to download the full report.

small-thumbnailThe report identifies many examples of good professional practice, teachers’ use of a range of pedagogies and approaches to learning and their creative use of resources, particularly web-based materials. The report also highlights a number of serious weaknesses which the REC now calls on the DCSF, publishers and RE professional organisations to address. It identifies the ways in which teachers use RE to promote community cohesion and to develop personal and social values,  positive attitudes towards those of other religions, and critical thinking. 

The purpose of the research study

The aim of the research stated by the DCSF was:
…to examine the materials available to schools for teaching and learning about and from world religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism were specified as principal religions in the UK) to support community cohesion and promote religious understanding amongst pupils. In particular, it will explore which materials are commonly used by schools and how, what key factors schools should consider when selecting materials, and identify any improvements that can be made to materials to better support cohesion.

Methodology

The research for this report was conducted 2008-9 by three separate, interlinked research teams:

1. A three-phase review of materials available for the teaching of world religions

  • An audit of books, produced since 2000, and ICT materials. This audit will be published separately later this year. There was also a review of sample materials by academic experts and consultants, professional RE specialists and faith group members 
  • Review of additional materials by experts and consultants (including materials identified in the other strands of the research by the qualitative and quantitative research teams
  • Analytical review of the first two phase reports to identify issues and make recommendations

2. Qualitative case studies were conducted in twenty schools, ten secondary and ten primary, covering a wide variety of types and locations. The researchers interviewed senior managers, RE co-ordinators, teachers and children and observed lessons

3. Quantitative survey of a random sample of nearly 3,000 schools of all types, conducted by post and on-line.

Key Findings
  • KS 4 and post-16 materials relate closely to examination syllabuses, focusing on philosophy, ethics and social issues; there is little available on world religions, other than Christianity. There is insufficient depth and challenge in texts. Their layout  often follows external requirements (e.g. examinations) rather than the ‘internal logic’ of the religions being studied
  • KS 3 materials relate closely to ‘learning about’ and ‘learning from’ religions
  • ‘Learning about’ religion is not give priority
  • Academic reviewers and faith consultants pointed out a high number of errors in the coverage of religions.
  • There is insufficient attention to spirituality and theology; there are few resources that enable understanding of contentious issues within rather than between religions
  • Resources are often attractive but illustrations, and their captions, sometimes promote stereotyping and can cause offence
  • In the case study schools, teachers tended to acquire single copies rather than class texts. Students often found printed texts boring or too challenging
  • Much of the material used in RE lessons is generated by the teachers using a mixture of resources many of which were not specifically produced for RE purposes. This trend means that the quality of the materials is dependent on the teacher’s knowledge, skill and commitment.
  • Areas such as personal and moral development, global understanding and spiritual development are rarely given specific mention in resources. Teachers have to draw out these themes for themselves
  • In some faith schools there is lack of engaging and structured material in the teaching of their own religion
Recommendations from the REC 
  • We call on the government  to recognise publicly the contribution religious education makes to young people’s development and to the promotion of community cohesion
  • There is an urgent need for more, and more effective training, within both initial teacher training courses and teachers’ continuing professional development, not least to increase subject knowledge of world religions
  • Teachers need further support in the selection and deployment of resources, including web-based resources
  • The above two recommendations require considerable and consistent funding from the DCSF through an extension  of the RE  Partnership and Action Plan
  • There is a need for an informed debate, within the professional organisations,  on the future direction of RE, especially its current focus on philosophy and social and personal issues
  • Publishers, authors and web designers need to work with academics and faith consultants to ensure the accuracy and appropriateness of their materials.  This should