Where is the progression from KS2-KS3 in Religious Education?

How can secondary RE teachers know what they are building upon? How can they be sure they are not repeating or dumbing down?

One of the challenges for transition from Primary to Secondary RE is knowing how to build on what pupils already know. This could be because the RE content is too large and perhaps not specific enough. Consequently, we have a range of schools doing different RE at different levels of difficulty.

Mary Myatt in ‘Gallimaufry to Coherence’ references Tom Oates’ paper, ‘Could do better: Using international comparisons to refine the National Curriculum in England.’ The background research found that those countries and jurisdictions, which had the highest levels of pupil and student outcomes, are characterised by a clear rationale for what is taught and explicit content to be covered.  Again, there was an ambition to slim down curriculum content focussing on deeper learning with fewer topics pursues at greater depth.  The Commission on Religious Education offers similar guidance, ‘we need to move towards a deeper understanding of the complex, diverse and plural nature of worldviews at institutional and personal levels” (p6 Commission on Religious Education final report).

So is there some value in setting out a statutory National Entitlement for RE as The CORE report suggests? This would identify core knowledge, which all pupils across all schools would gain.  A non-statutory programme of study from Key Stage 1-4 would enable pupils to build up secure knowledge rather than just retain batches of knowledge without clear sequencing and progression. The Geography curriculum for example, has a clear age-related hierarchy of specific content. This allows teachers to have confidence in what they are teaching, with assessment built into the process.

Dillwyn Hunt at the recent Cumbria SACRE conference put forward the case of the Mastery approach to RE. This educational philosophy maintains that students must achieve a level of mastery in prerequisite knowledge before moving on to learn subsequent information. The mastery approach breaks subject matter and learning content into units with clearly specified objectives, which are tracked until they are achieved.  Learners must demonstrate a high-level of success before progressing on to the next unit. Rather than accelerated learning by moving on to new content, a student may be given extension –(or more things on the same topic).  The EEF (Education Endowment Foundation) indicates that mastery learning is effective, adding five-month progress but research is widely based upon Mathematics.  Dillwyn shared with the Cumbria SACRE conference a small prescriptive programme of study in Christianity and Islam for RE in KS1, 2, and 3. This programme would allow teachers across a teaching school, network or local education authority to compare the standard of work effectively because assessment should be explicit in what has been taught. Collectively, this  could give teachers confidence in knowing what they are delivering. However, what are the potential dangers of having a prescriptive programme of study from KS1-KS3?

Whilst we may wait for further update on the recommendation from the CORE report, how best can we show progression from KS2 to KS3? One way this may work is by communicating more effectively between primary and secondary colleagues.  The cross phase local network groups are a great way of seeing what is happening in primary and secondary schools in the area.  As a secondary teacher, I think I can often underestimate the challenging RE that goes on in Primary Schools. More talking please!

Written by Katherine France, North Regional Ambassador for NATRE’s RE in your Region project. Katherine is a Head of Faculty at The Queen Katherine School (11-18 school in Kendal, Cumbria.) Find out more about Katherine on her Ambassador profile page. You can follow her on Twitter on @KathFrance1975

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