Communion of two kinds
Secondary schools have to pull their socks up in religious education, according to the Office for Standards in Education. While primary schools have turned their RE practice around in the past few years, secondary schools have not kept pace with these improvements.
"Secondary RE departments," says Her Majesty's Inspector Barbara Wintersgill, "have to raise expectations and levels of challenge to take account of improvements in primary RE."
OFSTED's Review of Secondary Schools in England 1993-97 criticises many secondaries for being unaware of this improvement and repeating work already covered.
But if the two sectors co-ordinate their efforts, the knock-on effect on secondary schools is positive, as witnessed in Tower Hamlets in east London. Deborah Weston, head of RE at Mulberry Girls' School, says: "Tower Hamlets has an agreed syllabus that schools are using throughout key stages 1 and 2. It's not about just doing a bit of Diwali and going to the mosque but is a carefully constructed scheme of work that lays the foundations for further work."
The obvious advantage of a standardised syllabus is that secondary schools can see at a glance what children have already covered. It also ensures that, in Deborah Weston's words, "work is done at the right conceptual level for the children, so that they're not doing key stage 2 level work at key stage 3".
As an example of what secondary teachers can do once there is clarity about what children have learned at primary school, she cites the work that key stage 3 pupils at Mulberry school are currently doing on symbols. "It can be tricky if you're going into it cold," she says. "But because the groundwork has already been done in key stage 2, we're able to take it further now, looking at how and why different religions use different symbols and language in different ways."
Before the scheme of work, Ms Weston recalls that "problems used to occur when for example we'd go into places of worship. If you're having to introduce at key stage 3 what a synagogue and a mosque look like, it's very time-consuming. But if they've already done that at key stage 2, you can progress in Year 7".
Jane Brooke, professional development officer at the Christian Education Movement, agrees with the notion of schemes of work. "One of the issues for key stage 3 is that of continuity and progression. At the moment, while a secondary teacher can be assured that all Year 7 pupils will have been taught Christianity from reception, the teacher can also be assured that they will all have had very diverse experiences of world religions."
The scheme of work is a far more practical idea than that of secondary schools keeping links with feeder primaries. These days, you could easily have 20 primary schools or more sending their children to a secondary. On the other hand, having the LEA co-ordinating the scheme of work clarifies what is being covered.