New schemes of work should help RE gain more status among other curriculum areas, says Lat Blaylock of the PCfRE
Cinderella is a favourite metaphor for RE:beautiful, but left in the ashes while other curriculum areas go to the ball. Since April, the Department for Education and Employment and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority have sent their non-statutory scheme of work for RE free to all schools, as part of Curriculum 2000. The folders include guidance and 32 units of primary RE, plus 15 units for key stage 3. Is this Cinderella's big break?
The QCA cannot win with RE. If the other subjects had been provided with schemes of work, and RE left out, I would be howling about marginalisation and low status. But the RE scheme of work has attracted hostile criticism already. Some solid points stand against it. Quirkily, the scheme does not arise from any particular syllabus, nor does it replace in law or match in practice any of the LEA Agreed Syllabuses, which remain the legal base for RE. The DFEE could have constructed a "virtual syllabus" to work from but I do not think anyone at the DFEE knows enough about RE to do it.
Some criticism is detailed: why are they recommending Noah, a story about divine genocide, for Reception? Can six-year-olds understand how Jews express their beliefs in practice? There are big issues too: is the balance of units correct (for example, the primary scheme has 12 units on Christianity, four on Islam, two on Judaism)? Are the KS3 units asking for a PhD in theology rom every pupil? Why have these been sent to church schools? Is the whole project a de facto national curriculum for RE? These are all valid questions.
But on the plus side, these schemes are "real RE", setting high expectations. There will be no time for mindless word searches, or six repetitions of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Instead, tasks require rigorous study of different religions, their origins, contemporary practice, belief, values and communities.
There is a serious attempt to balance rigour with relevance, learning about religions with learning from religion, and reflection on shared experience. Common formats with other curriculum subjects and sound advice about assessment are already popular with teachers.
I wonder if future LEA Agreed Syllabus conferences will be tempted to meet once, approve the QCA schemes and go for lunch? I hope not but, for the next five years, they will not be able to ignore these schemes, not least because many teachers will be improving their RE teaching through using them.
The QCA's role here is not fairy-godmother perfect, but these schemes will take RE forward. Their publication looks like a decent ballgown for Cinderella. Now, has anyone got a pumpkin?
Lat Blaylock is executive officer to the Professional Council for RE, Royal Buildings, Victoria Street, Derby DE1 1GW. Tel: 01332 296655. Website: www.pcfre.org.ukSchemes of Work for RE available at www.standards.dfee.gov.ukschemes or pound;16 each from QCA orderline, tel: 01787 884444