It is both a strength and weakness of religious education that it is the only subject whose curriculum is controlled locally, through local authority-agreed syllabuses or religious bodies. This encourages local involvement, but it can also lead to unhelpful diversity.
In contrast, new national curriculum subject orders have been published and next spring, schemes of work for key stages 1 to 3 will be sent to all schools. The inclusion of RE in this initiative provides a unique opportunity to support RE locally with a national exemplar scheme of work.
The challenge for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) was how to support at least 100 diverse agreed syllabuses with a single exemplar scheme.
Would a national RE scheme not marginalise agreed syllabuses? Can a scheme for RE be written without a national order on which to base it?
The QCA worked with several organisations representing RE teachers and lecturers, advisers and inspectors, SACREs, OFSTED and faith communities. A short guide on how an agreed syllabus can be turned into a scheme of work uses a framework for key stages 1-3, illustrated with selected units. Both can be adapted to local needs.
The units cover about two-thirds of the half-terms into which the scheme is divided, and can provide a basis for a school's own scheme of work.
They are not compulsory documents - their aim is to provide support, reassurance and guidance and can be used as a means of reviewing practices already in place.
Many of the units have a double format - a generic version for teaching about any of the principal religions in Britain and a particular version based on one of them. Units on Christianity are used in every key stage.
The scheme also has units aimed at reception children. And, like schemes of work for other subjects, the format used for all the units provides learning objectives, activities and outcomes.
Progression has been achieved using the new national expectations for RE. These offer an eight-level scale to LEAs and others to help them identify and raise standards through more refined assessment and target setting.
Other new guidance has been developed in parallel to the curriculum review, including the distinctive contribution of RE to the curriculum.
Before the schemes are sent to schools, they will go to LEAs, faith communities and SACREs to allow them to prepare advice on how the schemes might be used to support the local syllabus.
The challenge for RE is to provide a more effective preparation for raising standards further in ks 4 where the number of candidates sitting GCSE RE has more than doubled in the past five years.
John Keast is principal subject officer for religious education