The next few months will see a significant development in RE with the creation of a national framework. Its development provides an exciting opportunity to develop the subject at a national level. In particular, the opportunity to highlight the central aims and importance of RE, an area where much confusion still remains, is very welcome. It also provides an opportunity to celebrate the vital role it plays in promoting respect and sensitivity towards the beliefs and values of others and challenge prejudice and negative discrimination. The non-statutory national framework for RE seeks to crystallise best practice locally in RE and enhance learning by setting out clear and challenging expectations.
As one writer to The Observer newspaper put its: "So atheism is finally going to be taught in schools. Thank God for that!" In fact, contrary to several reports that you may have read, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) is not drafting a framework that will deliberately engineer a nation of young atheists. As The TES reported on February 20 the principal UK religions will all feature in the framework. Indeed it has been the case for many years in this country that RE lessons have considered non-religious, as well as religious, beliefs.
Q. What is the time scale for the production of the national framework?
Work on the framework has already begun with the intention that the first draft will be complete by the end of the spring term. The draft will be extensively consulted upon - particularly in schools, LEAs and faith communities during the summer term and a final version published later in 2004.
Q. Who will be involved in the development of the national framework?
The writing group is drawn from professional associations involved in RE, plus the QCA and DfES. The steering group contains a wide range of RE professionals, teachers, and representatives of faith communities. Other interested groups will have the opportunity to comment constructively on the framework. The QCA will be hosting, in partnership with the DfES, a series of meetings across the country for LEAs, SACREs, teachers, governors and faith communities. It is also important to note that pupils will play a significant role in the development of the framework, and the QCA hopes that they will play a part in shaping a national view of the importance and effectiveness of RE. The main vehicle for submitting your ideas and opinions on the draft framework will be the QCA website (www.qca.org.uk).
The full draft framework, and an accompanying questionnaire, will be available on the website shortly into the summer term.
Q. Will the RE framework closely resemble the national curriculum framework?
The framework will closely mirror the national curriculum subject orders in that it will set out knowledge, skills and understanding and breadth of study for each key stage, including early years and post 16. It will also include a revised eight level descriptor of pupil attainment and provide guidance on the central aims and RE's links with other curriculum areas.
Q. What will be the important benefits of a national framework?
The central aim of the project is to develop a high quality, informative and well received national framework. It will seek to provide a lively, challenging RE curriculum; develop RE's role in the Inclusion Agenda, particularly in promoting racial harmony and combating prejudice and discrimination; and raise standards, achievement, teaching and learning through clear learning outcomes; support LEAs, schools and SACREs.
Q. Does this mean the end of SACREs?
No. The framework will be non-statutory, so if SACREs decide that a slightly different version would suit their area better, they can use it to write their own agreed syllabus. Charles Clarke hasn't ruled out the possibility that he might consult on making the framework statutory later - but even then, he's said clearly that there will still be an important role for SACREs to play.
Q. What about faith schools? Do they have to follow this new framework?
A: No, they are still free to make their own arrangements. But I am optimistic that the framework, because it will be worked on carefully with many interested groups including faith communities, will turn out to be such a good tool that many faith schools will choose to use it as a basis for their own RE provision.
Graham Langtree is RE consultant, for the QCA