How does RE stand for re-invention?

28th April 2006 at 01:00
Pat McDermott answers your leadership questions

We are going to conduct a thorough review of RE in our school this term. If we are seriously and methodically to rethink the subject, what should this entail and how should we go about it?

When setting off on such a journey, it is useful to have a map. Of course, "journey" implies "destination" and "map" implies a quick route to get there. Neither is necessarily true with regard to your intended overhaul of RE. Nevertheless, it may be helpful for you to construct a map so that you don't all get lost and the journey become a quest for the Holy Grail.

Who are you going to invite on this journey? Will you restrict it to RE staff? Do you wish governors to be involved? And what about parents? If you are a faith school, will you invite representatives of this faith community, too? Whoever is in the party, obvious areas to consider are:

* the suitability of the programmes of study for your pupils

* the interests and expertise of your staff

* the local and regional context of your school with regard to various faith groups.

* the amount of time and type of profile you are going to give to RE in your school.

Further discussions might include:

* what contribution do you want RE to make to your pupils' learning?

* how far along or beyond the knowledge, understanding and evaluation spectrum do you want your pupils to travel in their learning?

If you are to conduct a meaningful and coherent debate about RE and its place in your school, you might wish to consider the following:

* a four-year-old now in our education system will be 18 in 2020. What will be their experience of RE during that time?

* what contribution will your school and its RE programme make to their experience?

* how will your RE programme equip them for the rest of their life?

* what direct contribution will your staff make to this?

RE can make a unique and profound contribution to the education of our young people. In your review, will you want to advocate this?

The subject can provide, for example, opportunities for pupils to reflect - individually and collectively - and to deepen their awareness and understanding of themselves, others and their world. This is very important for adolescents today as they strive to discover who they are and how they relate to the world around them.

But RE does not stop there: it allows pupils the possibility of translating this understanding into authentic and creative meanings that can have an impact on their lives and the decisions they may make. This possibility of constructing personal meaning is part of the unique contribution that RE can make to the education of young people in your school, so it is well worthy of your reflection and review.

But there is a hidden imperative here. If this is what RE can contribute to the development of our young people, you must ensure, if RE is to be effective, that it uses the full range of opportunities for learning open to young people today.

To that end, you may also find it necessary in your review to re-examine your pedagogy. Innovative, imaginative and exciting teaching is called for to elicit learning that goes beyond the merely superficial. This also calls for language that engages young people and enables them to enter into deep reflection, and this is not always the forte of RE teachers, nor the natural language of an agreed syllabus or denominational RE programmes.

Enabling young people to reflect at all on anything these days presents serious challenges to the RE teacher. How are you going to tackle this?

RE also has a contribution to make to the Every Child Matters agenda, citizenship, and other areas of educational experience that cut across the traditional subject silos. So you must also consider how RE is going to interact with these areas in your school, avoiding duplication or the sin of omission.

Patrick McDermott is head of St Joseph's Catholic college, an 11-18 girls'

school in Bradford. This is his third headship, and he has been a head for 12 years and a teacher for 27. He is a facilitator for the National College for School Leadership and mentored Catholic heads for 10 years. Do you have a leadership question? Email

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