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An Investigation of the Materials used in Schools to Teach World Religions


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Presentation by Rosalyn Xavier, Schools Research Team, DCSF and Samina Malik, Community Cohesion Unit, DCSF

Presentation by Rosalyn Xavier, Schools Research Team, DCSF and Samina Malik, Community Cohesion Unit, DCSF

Published in: Education, Spiritual
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  • 1. An Investigation of the Materials used in Schools to Teach World Religions
    Presentation by:Rosalyn Xavier, Schools Research Team, DCSFSamina Malik, Community Cohesion Unit, DCSF9 February 2010
  • 2. Community Cohesion: quick history
    • 2001 – community cohesion concept emerged following the Cantle Review of disturbances in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham
    • 3. 2003 – Home Office (HO) establishes the Community Cohesion Panel to provide in depth guidance to local areas to take forward Cantle recommendations
    • 4. 2005 – HO publishes Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society, strategy which sets out the Government's commitment to race equality and cohesive communities
    • 5. 2006 – Education and Inspections Act introduces new statutory duty for schools to promote community cohesion
    • 6. Jan 2007 – Ajegbo Review of Diversity & Citizenship in the curriculum published;
    • 7. June 2007 – Commission on Integration and Cohesion publishes its report, Our Shared Future, with recommendations for Government, including on education
    • 8. Sept 2007 – Duty on schools comes into force (DCSF guidance issued, July ’07)
    • 9. Feb 2008 – Government response to Commission’s report published, CLG lead dept.
    • 10. Sept 2008 - Ofsted begins inspection of duty. “Diversity and Identity, living together in the UK introduced into citizenship curriculum
  • What is community cohesion?
    • Is a society where:
    there is a common vision;
    sense of belonging by all communities;
    the diversity of people’s backgrounds and circumstances is appreciated and valued;
    similar life opportunities are available to all;
    strong and positive relationships exist; and
    continue to be developed in the workplace, in schools and in the wider community.
    (Definition in DCSF guidance to schools)
  • 11. CONTEXT: Why has the Government funded this research?
    Religious and non-religious
    The different social dimensions of community
    Ethnicity and culture
    Engagement &Ethos
    Equality &Excellence
    The Global Community
    Teaching,Learning &Curriculum
    The school’s contribution can be grouped under these headings.
    UK Community
    Community in which school is located
    School community
    The different scales or geographical dimensions of “community”
  • 12. CONTEXT: Why has the Government funded this research?
    Promoting Community Cohesion: RE Contribution
    Schools required to understand the faith, ethnic and socio economic context of their local community
    Teaching and Learning one of three strands in which a schools contribution to promote community cohesion is inspected
    Schools should consider how whole curriculum promotes community cohesion
    RE a key subject area which can make significant contribution. Developing a good understanding and appreciation of other faiths and beliefs is a key factor in promoting community cohesion.
    Improving Quality of RE Provision
    Ofsted Report into RE in 2007 found RE provision patchy and standards low.
    £1million investment into RE Action Plan, RE stakeholders raised concerns about the quality of resources available to schools
    Need to know the nature and content of resources and materials commonly used by schools for teaching RE to enable us to better support teachers and pupils
  • 13. Contribution of RE to well-being and cohesion
    Contribution of RE
  • 14. Aims and Scope of the Research
    • identify the nature and content materials
    • 15. highlighting any potential gaps
    • 16. potentially help stimulate the market to fill these gaps,
    • 17. identify the factors that schools consider when selecting RE materials
    • 18. Key research questions:
    What materials are available for teaching about or learning from world religions?
    What materials are schools using in practice?
    What is the content/nature of these materials and how do they relate to current school duty to promote community cohesion?
    How are they used by teachers in the classroom? And how could their use be improved?
    What are the key factors for schools to consider when determining which materials should be used to teach world religions?
  • 19. Parameters of the research
    Six ‘principal’ religions practised in the UK (i.e. Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism).
    Coverage of independent and maintained primary and secondary schools
    The review restricted to a sample of materials (produced since 2000).
    Engagement between the research team and RE professional and faith communities was an important part of the research.
    Professional RE experts, faith representatives and academics made up the panel reviewing materials.
  • 20. Challenges
    Financial constraints limited the scope of the research to the six principal religions.
    It was not possible to make an exhaustive review of the RE resources available on the internet with the time and money available.
    Communicating that the intended outcome of this project is to support teaching and learning of RE in all schools, not dictate how different religions should be taught.
    Communicating to faith communities that the Research is not to aimed to “hijack” the teaching of RE to promote community cohesion, but to use the results to improve the teaching and learning of RE as a subject which places inclusion, tolerance, diversity and interfaith dialogue at the heart of children's learning.
  • 21. Research methodology
    Three strands to the research project:
    An audit and review of materials used in schools by a panel of experts
    95 books and 116 websites were reviewed by the panel of experts (RE professionals, academic experts and faith consultants).
    Case studies of 10 primary and 10 secondary schools (maintained and independent schools, including community schools and schools of ‘a religious character’).
    Survey of materials used in schools
    Response rate of 23 percent (362 primary schools and 301 secondary schools participated).
  • 22. Key Findings: Materials available
    Books on world religions:
    for primary schools include information books, story books and mixed media resources.
    KS3 books were the most likely reflect recent initiatives in Religious Education.
    At KS4 and post-16, they relate closely to examination specifications.
    Online and e-resources:
    there are many types of resources on-line (from fully written materials to ‘gobbets’ of materials in different formats).
    They give access to ‘insider’ sources (e.g. people, sacred texts or images of artefacts).
    There are also the ‘traditional’ resources which deal with religions including film, video, DVD, radio and television.
  • 23. Key Findings: Content and nature of materials
    Books for KS4 and post-16 students relate closely to examination specifications.Examiners are often involved in the writing of GCSE materials.
    At examination level
    most publications now relate to popular options in philosophy of religion and ethics, and social issues.
    There are few recent books to study a particular religion in depth (except for Christianity).
    It is more common for textbooks to consider controversial issues from the perspective of different faiths, rather than issues where the roots of controversy lie between / among religions.
  • 24. Key Findings: Content and nature of materials
    In some faith schools, there is a lack of good materials for the teaching of the school’s own religion.
    Many of the RE books available were described by reviewers as attractive and engaging, and presented an immediately positive image of the religions.
    However there were a large number of errors and points for criticisms in the coverage of religions.
    The reviewers highlighted particular issues of concern specific to each religion (Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity) in the materials they reviewed.
  • 25. Key Findings: Materials used by schools
    Electronic resources are popular in RE - teachers draw heavily on web resources and DVDs.
    There was extensive use of ‘first-hand’ resources such as visitors, visits and artefacts.
    Many of the materials used in class were generated by the teachers - it is tailored to pupil learning styles, interest or assessment requirements.
    The quality of the materials, and of the students’ learning through them, depends on teacher knowledge, skill and commitment.
    Lack of subject expertise among many teachers of RE means that they depended on the reliability of the materials they use as sources of information about world religions.
    All six principal religions are well established at KS3 (although coverage of different religions is more restricted in other Key Stages).
  • 26. Key Findings: Materials used by schools
    The selection and use of materials was also influenced by:
    RE pedagogies being used.
    learning styles and literacy needs, thinking skills and creativity and technological innovation.
    The faith of pupils in classes.
    Some ‘faith schools’ incorporate both teaching of their own faith as well as multi-faith religious education into their school curriculum.
    The survey found that the main factors influencing teacher choice of materials were:
    at primary level, teachers’ personal and professional judgement and price of the materials.
    at secondary, teachers’ personal and professional judgement and the recommendation of the exam board.
  • 27. Key Findings: Pupils’ views of RE materials
    At primary level, books were more valued as learning tools. Pupils also preferred story books over information books.
    At secondary, books were less appreciated by pupils; they were often viewed as too challenging or too boring.
    Secondary pupils also appreciated interactive, person to person approaches to teaching and learning.
    Pupils generally appreciated electronic resources, and welcomed materials pre-packaged for their learning.
    Pupils’ own faith and commitment affected how they viewed RE materials.
  • 28. Key Findings: Community cohesion and RE
    The principles of community cohesion were not explicitly stated in the materials/policies/RE lessons in the case study schools. However they recognised the importance of learning about different faiths for social and citizenship reasons.
    Pupils felt that religious education promotes and develops positive attitudes towards other people.
    The case study schools adopted various responses to the community cohesion agenda (e.g. through engaging in partnerships and social action in the community and through learning about differences).
    The survey asked teachers about the aims of Religious Education in their schools. This revealed that the promotion of community cohesion was not one of the top priorities compared to the other aims specified.
  • 29. Key Findings: Factors for schools to consider when selecting materials
    Reviewers identified a number of criteria for assessing the value of RE materials – these related to the need to respect the integrity of the religion and general pedagogical considerations.
    The key features included:
    coherence in their portrayal,
    recognition of the complexity and internal diversity,
    conveying a sense of religions being living and contemporary.
    For electronic materials: teachers and students need to become critical evaluators of the materials – to assess their authenticity, content, ease of navigation and origin.
  • 30. Conclusions
    This research is based on the understanding that community cohesion objectives are supported by providing pupils with increased knowledge of the beliefs, practices, motivations and values of the six principal religions in the UK.
    The research found that schools of all types (maintained, independent, with or without a religious character) included a variety of religions as part of their curriculum and there are a wide range of materials available to support them.
    However the value of the materials for increasing understanding of world religions was often compromised by inaccuracy, imbalance and lack of depth. As a result the report makes a number of recommendations for schools, publishers and policy makers.
  • 31. Recommendations
    The recommendations focus on some key issues including
    The content of religious education in schools:
    Schools should recognise in their policy, practice and self assessment that an increase in knowledge about different religions is important for community cohesion.
    RE policy makers should explore ways in which learning about religions may be renewed in upper secondary education.
    Supporting RE teachers:
    Through meetings between teachers, RE advisers, university academics and scholars from the religious traditions to support teacher subject knowledge.
    Initial teacher education and CPD opportunities.
    Training opportunities for faith community members who visit schools.
    The development of community partnerships between schools and local faith communities so that pupils can learn about the role of religions in society.
  • 32. Recommendations Continued
    Publishers, authors and designers of websites:
    Should work with academics and faith consultants to ensure accuracy, balance, and appropriateness of the representation of religious traditions in their materials.
    Should promote community cohesion by providing examples from religions of positive social involvement and collaborative action between different faith communities.
  • 33. Next Steps for DCSF
    Ensure research findings are used to improve teaching and learning in RE as a subject so that it contributes better towards building inclusion, appreciation of diversity, interfaith dialogue and a sense of belonging amongst children and young people.
    Plans are to:
    • disseminate findings to a wide range of stakeholders
    • 34. Incorporate into DCSF communications to schools and school workforce on community cohesion
    • 35. improve the quality of supply for good quality materials –facilitating dialogue between publishers and faith communities
    • 36. strengthening the demand for good quality materials – working with schools/teachers
  • Contact details
    Rosalyn Xavier
    Tel: 020 7340 8091
    Samina Malik
    Tel: 020 7340 8347
  • 37. Sources
    The report and research brief are available from the DCSF research website: