If the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, religious educators working outside church schools sometimes look upon their colleagues inside church schools with a degree of envy: RE in the church school seems to have guaranteed curriculum position and status, strong parental support and compliant Christian children to work with.
Climb or vault the same proverbial fence and the view changes: church school children ask the same questions, share the same doubts, imbibe the same late 20th-century secular world view as those outside.
Sister Judith Rossi and others worked with Roman Catholic primary schools in Hertfordshire with the support of James O'Brien, their bishop, to produce Children of the Promise, seen by the bishop as a response both to the ferment in the world of RE and recent catechetical publications in the Roman Catholic Church. A teacher's handbook of almost 300 spiral bound pages provides comprehensive support for the classroom books, one for each school year (One to Six, there is a different arrangement for reception) which make a strong and favourable visual impact. The key themes are based on the liturgical year, adapted to the school year: Welcome and Belonging; Giving Thanks; All Saints and All Souls; Advent; Christmas; Epiphany; Candlemas; Lent; Easter; Pentecost; Saints and Feasts and Goodbye. I liked this last one a lot. The world of the primary school has more partings than adults often recollect: goodbye to favourite teachers, to pupils who move away, to relatives who die, to our life in this school. It has a minor death-resurrection motif of its own.
The values of the pack are openly declared: to integrate learning about the Christian faith with celebrating it and living it and to provide a means of curriculum planning that puts RE at the centre. This is where the more expensive Children of the Promise Windows software options, produced with Key Solutions RM, can be used for planning, audit, assessment, recording and reporting and as an administration manager pupils database. The program links the scheme to the national curriculum and to the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority documents on whole school planning across key stages 1 and 2. The skills listed as basic to the course are also used in planning grids and in the software program. Let's face it, if you can relate planning grids, RE, recording and assessment with celebration, it can't be bad!
I found the pupil books interesting, attractive and (without being patronising) warm. If I was left with a doubt it is a question that might be addressed more widely in the next round of the debate about RE in the church school, and that is how far one should leave the ghetto and in what phase of the child's education. In other words when and how does the teaching about other religions fit in, because Christians inhabit not only the same planet but the same cities and even villages as those of different religions and of none. There may even be some common beliefs and values, as well as major differences.
Christian educators need to face this question, but it can equally be posed to Jewish and Islamic schools and to those very secular schools or primary classrooms where despite every effort of curriculum and law, teachers have decided "not to do RE with my class!"