Miracles will take longer

4th December 1998 at 00:00
Are we making key stage 3 RE challenging enough? Terence Copley investigates a recent batch of resources


JUDAISM. ISLAM. By Christine Moorcroft.

CHRISTIANITY. By Christine Jenkins.

Folens. Pounds 17.99 each. UNDERSTANDING CHRISTIANITY. By Sue Penney.

Books 1-3. Heinemann. Pounds 5.50 each.

LEARNING FROM RELIGION SERIES. THE MUSLIM WAY. By April Heywood. Student's Book Pounds 6.25. Workbook Pounds 21.99.

THE BUDDHIST WAY. By Steve Clarke. Hodder amp; Stoughton. Student's Book Pounds 6.25. Workbook Pounds 21.99.

JESUS, THE MAN AND HIS FAITH. By Kevin O'Donnell. Hodder amp; Stoughton.Student's Book Pounds 6.99.

INVESTIGATING CHRISTIANITY. By Gwyneth and Helen Windsor. Heinemann. CD-Rom Pounds 49.95.

THIS IS HINDUISM. By Dave Symmons. Stanley Thornes. Pounds 7.50.



Oxford University Press. Pounds 5 each. Guess the year for this pupil task: label a parish church or synagogue or mosque plan. Year 5? Year 7? Year 9? The answer is: it could be any.

Teachers of key stage 3 RE have been ticked off. The Office for Standards in Education has identified this key stage as the biggest problem area for RE, on the grounds that children are not being stretched and that teachers too often ignore agreed syllabus developments that have introduced into key stage 2 much of the material previously covered in key stage 3. The agreed syllabus as a guide to setting tasks or identifying outcomes is being neglected. In other words, if OFSTED is right, secondary teachers are not taking account of recent improvements and changes in primary RE and they're not making RE demanding enough for key stage 3 children.

But just as important as the agreed syllabus at key stage 3 classroom level is the resourcing available. If syllabuses can shape teaching at the chalk face, so can publishers. Are they using specialist RE advice in selecting and editing manuscripts or are non-specialists shaping what appears for classroom use? Are textbooks encouraging sloppy practice? Have publishers got the OFSTED message? I read a recent batch of resources for key stage 3 to find out.

Christianity remains hard to present adequately. The Christianity Specials text, like the others in that series, is aimed at pupils with learning difficulties. But it misrepresents the religion. Quakers are called a church; "prophecies" is mis-spelled and explained as future predictions. Some of the cartoon pictures, for instance of Jesus and especially the resurrection, are unintentionally laughable and some look amateur. But Sue Penney's Understanding Christianity in three detailed volumes with good colour photos provide depth for key stage 3. She doesn't make up symbolic meanings where none are clear, for instance the symbolism of eagle lecterns. I wasn't sure why we have "Peter" (no title) and then "St Paul", complete with mission-ary journeys, which distances him from our time and culture.

Kevin O'Donnell's approach in Jesus, the man and his faith is refreshing,placed in the context of our society and its hero stories, other religions' attitudes to Jesus and good biblical background. The comparison between a nuclear explosion and the Transfiguration jarred but the overall impact was wacky with depth.

A CD-Rom is still a slightly unusual thing in RE, so I tackled Investigating Christianity with interest. This claimed to be an 11 to 16 resource with more than 2,000 main screens with additional text pop ups, including assignments and quizzes. It was the international and visual presentation of Christianity at which this excelled, despite the unconvincing appearance of a busker and a hurdy-gurdy player as two of the frames on the Canterbury tour and the variant spellings of Lindisfarne. Teachers would do better to invent their own activities tailored to their children's use of the CD-Rom.

In the Specials series, Jews are a "nation" rather than a people and dating is BCAD not BCE and CE. But the Islam and Sikh Specials are strong and perform a delicate tightrope walk in presenting their faiths as world religions as well as UK religions, with text for low reading age children. In the Buddhism and Islam Specials the division of worksheets is particularly sensitive and helpful. April Heywood's Muslim Way for teachers contains lesson plans and detailed pupil activity sheets. The bright, attractive pupil book has plenty of things to do that certainly develop understanding.

Hinduism as a religion requires a vibrant, bright text to match its colourful mandirs, and Dave Symmons' book supplies this. But it's much more than pretty pictures. His text and the pupil questions go far beyond the superficial. Each section is developed in detail and depth from a basic question about Hinduism. Over-generalisation is avoided.

Religion for Today makes the same sort of visual impact. The pupil questions include issues for discussion but there is more emphasis on comprehension; the Hindu book having more "imagine" questions than the Sikh book. Of course, compre-hension matters. If we don't comprehend we're not even at Level 1. But moving beyond language compre-hension in RE matters more.

If we could send OFSTED to inspect publishing in key stage 3 RE, what might they find? The answer is that like RE in schools, it would vary. There is the dazzling and good, the dazzling and bad, low expect-ation of pupil standards and distortion of religions by over-generalisation, alongside provocative and perceptive writing that aims to take pupils more deeply into the religions they're studying. But over 1990s RE so far, these resources show that in the words of the old British Rail advert, RE is getting there. Let's hope it won't, like the privatised railways, arrive late.

Terence Copley is professor of religious education at the University of Exeter

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