Breaking the timetable barrier – one way forward for primary RE?

One of the great joys of teaching RE and worldviews with primary pupils is its ability to  span so many areas of learning in the classroom and beyond. The subject doesn’t really fit in its own box without other curriculum areas coming into play. Quality RE must be using language and literacy in so many ways; reading, writing, discussion and expression. It must be digging into the history of beliefs and faiths, providing context and exploring tradition and change, embracing and discovering the geography of traditions and beliefs. It cannot avoid links with SMSC and PSHE, exploring religious and non-religious responses to moral questions and philosophical debates. Beautiful works of art, music and poetry must be explored to truly understand the beliefs and values of all worldviews being studied. The list could go on.

So why, when SLT talk of ‘cross-curricular’ RE opportunities and ‘thematic learning’ as important tools for time management and planning, do I feel concern as an RE Subject Leader? Well, I think there is always the risk of the RE being ‘lost’ in the mission to tick boxes. Learning about religions becomes too easy an opportunity for yet more writing in the primary classroom. Cross-curricular RE becomes an easy way to tick a coverage box for OFSTED, something some managers are now seeing is important under the new framework but avoid the time and depth needed to teach it well. Too often an RE/PSHE lesson contains no true RE learning outcomes.  Art activities using tessellating patterns in a prayer mat design or Hindu pots to learn about Diwali might tick the box for art this week, but offer nothing for learning about religious beliefs and actions.   The poetry writing session becomes entirely focussed around English objectives despite offering wonderful opportunities for discussion of belief and human experience.

The positive message is it that it doesn’t need to be like this. A great subject leader should encourage colleagues to embrace the many opportunities RE offers, to reduce time pressures and make links while covering all aspects of learning carefully and thoroughly. In many schools, teachers may not value RE in their timetable: very often due to a lack confidence in their subject knowledge. Perhaps then we must tackle a greater task first, before we can trust any quality RE can come from cross-curricular learning. We must inspire our team with the huge importance of the subject, grow their subject knowledge through quality CPD and resources and encourage them to access local networks for RE.

With a team focus on the importance and value of RE in the curriculum we can seek to flip the system to work in our favour –buying ourselves more time for RE through cross-curricular learning. Arguably, learning about religions and worldviews could connect with almost every other subject in the primary curriculum. Should we teach RE every day whilst we learn traditional stories from Islamic belief in our English sessions? Yes please! A whole week of RE based learning whilst we plan, prepare and write about our art work for this year’s Spirited Arts competition? Great! The discussion of ‘Big Ideas’ continues to excite and interest many of us in the world of RE.  Conceptual learning may be the way forward to really engage pupils in deeper thinking and lifelong knowledge and skills.  It really is a matter of genuinely thinking outside the box –the timetable box in particular. Can we box clever as teachers passionate about time for RE, use the infinite subject links to our advantage and lead the way with big ideas and concepts which hook children into real learning which is useful to them, the world and their future?

Written by Laura Harris, South West Regional Ambassador for NATRE’s RE in your Region project, LTLRE North Somerset Hub Leader and North Somerset SACRE member. Find out more about Laura on her Ambassador profile page. You can follow her on Twitter on @mrsharrisRE

You can also join her Regional Facebook Group here: RE in the South West

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