The case for a national curriculum for RE

As I typed the title of this blog post I had already made my first concession: I don’t think there will be a National Curriculum for RE any time in the near future. There is not the political will to overcome the significant obstacles that would be required to dismantle the current system and replace it with something fit-for-purpose. That having been said, it does not alter the strong case for a nationally standardised RE curriculum but it does mean it will have to look different and that’s why I’ve started talking about a ‘national curriculum’ instead of a ‘National Curriculum’.

How do you solve a problem like a locally agreed syllabus?

No other subject has a curriculum-by-committee which varies from county-to-county and borough-to-borough. There are great people working on great syllabi but all of that work is obscured by the inapt system they are working in. To my mind one of the most powerful and overlooked agents of ensuring educational quality and equity is consistency and the current system of dozens and dozens of RE curricula, the right to withdraw and the patchy coverage in all stages of education actively works against that for RE. There is increasingly a groundswell of teachers now who are sharing their frustrations of the inconsistencies, vagaries and eccentricities of the fragmented system of locally agreed syllabi.

As an RE community we are very clear in our messaging that all schools have a legal duty to teach high-quality RE but when someone messages me saying their SLT or their trust has taken heed of this and now they need to plan something for that legally required RE I am usually at a loss. If they are lucky they live in an area with a high-quality, well-resourced LAS (locally agreed syllabus). If they are not then I point them to Norfolk’s and to some textbooks I think are high quality and hope they’ll be able to spend hours and hours putting together something themselves. This is not a sustainable way to build a consistently high-quality national subject.

The transition chasm

Transition from primary to secondary is not easy for any subject, trust me, I’m a Year 6 teacher. That being said RE has put itself into a uniquely ruinous situation where there is a huge mis-match between what is happening at primary and what is happening in secondary. A Year 7 RE teacher will be faced with pupils who might have done seven years of high-quality, rigorous RE covering 6 world religions, philosophy and non-religious worldviews sitting in the same classroom as students who’ve never done a lesson of RE in their life. This is where the lack of consistency leads us. Similarly I might send my Year 6 students off to a dozen local secondaries where they will either have a really exciting and interesting encounter with religion and philosophy right up until Year 13 or where the subject they’ve enjoyed at primary will get mushed in with PSHE in a termly drop-down day in a 2 year KS3.

What to do?

Firstly, read Wayne Buisst’s vastly superior blog post which lays out his vision for a grass-roots curriculum entitlement: National Entitlement of Dreams.

I am increasingly hearing the refrain that we need to do something to move this conversation forward and I strongly agree. Instead of hoping that the DfE or any other organisation which seeks to ‘support’ RE teachers will produce something usable in the next five years, we ought to look into our own classroom collective and build on the incredible goodwill and generosity of our subject community to try and create something ourselves. If you think of how easy it is to find teaching materials and aid with the nationally-standardised GCSE specs, that is what I think we should aim for with KS1-4 RE.

So, the vision is thus: a Reception – Y11 curriculum map with some core material, some optional pathways and a local study building on the stellar work of RE curriculum thinkers like Richard Kueh, Dawn Cox, Louise Hutton, Kathryn Wright and many others. Once this is created and QA’d we can begin the process of compiling high-quality, freely available teaching materials for this: booklets, PPTs, reading, worksheets, planning documents, knowledge organisers and more. The more schools and teachers get involved the greater the economies of effort are, the more attractive the curriculum becomes.

A time comes when you have to stop complaining and start planting your flag in the ground. I think the time has come to say this is good RE. Drop me a DM if you’re interested in getting involved.

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