Getting through a muddy patch

Katherine Musson.

There's already a change for the better in attitudes towards religious education, says Katherine Musson. The question came quietly, but persistently, from six-year-old Melissa when I was called into the local infants' school to do a day's supply. I was in the middle of reading a story about The Creation, and we were talking about God making light so that he could see the watery substance which was all there was at the beginning of the world. "There must have been mud," Melissa continued, "or what could they have walked on under the water?"

In all my years as a secondary teacher, this question had never been raised. Had it all been thrashed out long ago at infant level, I wondered, or did pupils stop asking fundamental questions once they reached the age of 11?

Recently I have read reports on standards of RE teaching being called into question and realised that, in my experience in Lincolnshire, there has been a distinct change of emphasis over recent years.

At first I taught in a humanities department and had to work hard to make sure that RE had any place at all alongside the demands of history and geography. This sometimes proved difficult, especially when the chosen topic was, say, the social life of bees, ants and termites.

Seven years ago, again under the auspices of a humanities department, the sum total of my daughter's religious education in her first year of secondary school involved counting how many times the word "God" appeared in the first two chapters of Genesis.

In that school RE is now taught as a separate subject and given the same number of periods as history and geography. (There still seems to be a hitch with the room allocation so that RE has to use the music room and doesn't have easy access to its own stock cupboard.) I experienced a similar fate at another school. Everybody else had their own room and I had to lead a nomadic existence. When a poster of various little creatures clinging to a tree went up in the staffroom, with the question, "Where are you on the management tree?" I simply drew myself at the bottom, armed with an assortment of carrier bags.

I remember taking my first confirmation class seven years ago and bringing the candidates to our local church, where there is a large and splendid stained glass window depicting all the scenes of the story of the Good Samaritan. Not a single child could identify this story and the oldest in the group was 15.

However, in the past few months there has been a change in attitude towards the subject. Suddenly RE is very much a live issue, particularly in our primary schools. Staff meetings are being used to discuss such topics as the teaching of world religions to infants, collective worship and how the local vicar might be involved. Christian leaders are being invited to speak and to explain some of the symbols of Christianity. Churches and cathedrals are being visited and schemes of work are being drawn up.

Recently I have spoken to infant classes in three schools about Christian symbols; I also teach RE to the top class in the local primary fortnightly because the head hasn't the time to prepare the subject. A year ago, RE simply wouldn't have appeared on the timetable.

Nowadays the children in the confirmation class have certainly heard the story of the Good Samaritan and have probably written their own modern version.

Perhaps there is still some way to go to reach the standards demanded by the OFSTED inspectors and called for last week by Dr Nick Tate of SCAA. But certainly a much bigger effort is already being made, and teachers are becoming more aware of the issues involved.

"But what about the mud?" You have only to look in Genesis 1:9 for your answer: "God said, 'Let the water under the heavens be gathered into one place, so that dry land may appear'," which shows that six-year-old Melissa was right all along.

Katherine Musson lives in Sleaford, Lincolnshire

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Latest stories

SQA results day 2020: LIVE

SQA results day 2020: LIVE

SQA exams were cancelled after the Covid-19 outbreak, but results day goes ahead as planned – check here for regular updates
Henry Hepburn 3 Aug 2020
Coronavirus school gate

Coronavirus and schools: LIVE 3/8

A one-stop shop for teachers who want to know what impact the outbreak of the virus will have on their working lives
Tes Reporter 3 Aug 2020