Religious and moral lessons hit a new peak

25th May 2012 at 01:00
An RME course by teachers who love the outdoors explores faith and service in Scotland's mountain rescue teams, as well as international issues. Jean McLeish reports

This is how Aberdeen teacher Mike Will spends his free time - in sunshine, showers and blizzards - battling his way to the top of Scotland's highest mountains.

Mr Will is depute headteacher at Aberdeen's Northfield Academy and if he's not there, he is probably up another Munro. So far, he has been to the top of 190.

Teaching colleague Paul Rorie is a member of the Territorial Army and also enjoys the outdoor life in Scotland's often challenging conditions.

Now the two religious and moral education teachers have developed a new RME course, which includes work on Scotland's mountain rescue teams. Their course explores national and international issues around faith and service to others and is now available to pupils across Scotland.

Both teachers had seen mountain rescue teams at work on the hills and wanted to help their efforts. They had become members of the Order of St John in Scotland, a Christian charity that helps needy people worldwide and in Scotland also supports the mountain rescue teams.

When Curriculum for Excellence was introduced, the teachers agreed the charity they already supported would provide an ideal vehicle for a new RME course, studying the work of volunteer mountain rescuers in Scotland and the order's healthcare projects overseas. These include the St John Eye Hospital in Jerusalem, the only charitable provider of eye care for people of all races and faiths in the Palestinian territories.

"It is open to everyone, but it mainly supports Palestinian patients because they don't have the money to go elsewhere for treatment, which other residents in Israel generally do," says Richard Waller, the CEO of the order in Scotland. He was one of a number of guests attending a launch event for the course at Northfield Academy.

"When the new RME curriculum came out, there were things in it about faith in Scotland and how it impacts on our community and we didn't have any courses that covered that, because that had never really been part of the curriculum before - as explicitly," says Paul Rorie, principal teacher of humanities at Northfield.

He and Mr Will piloted this new cross-curricular package with S1s two years ago and with less able pupils in S2 and S3. As well as exploring the role of faith and the charity's overseas work, their programme includes an enterprise element, challenging pupils to devise new strategies for fundraising projects.

"It's really to give young people a broad education, using the experiences and outcomes from religious and moral education. It's looking at how young people can consider the needs of others and their own place in society and what they can perhaps do to help others in need," says Mr Will.

Third-year pupils who were part of the pilot in their first year attended the launch event to share their experiences of the course. "I really liked it. I think it's good for people to get involved with the charity and I liked learning about the mountain rescue," says 14-year-old Greg Shearer.

"And it was different to what we normally do in RME," says Alannah Vaughan, 14, who wants to be a social worker when she leaves school.

The cross-curricular element of the package is taught in RME, with the literacy, numeracy and health and well-being experiences and outcomes embedded within the course material.

The unit includes creative writing, geography and global citizenship - looking at healthcare for some of the world's poorest people at the St John Eye Hospital in Jerusalem and St John Malawi primary healthcare project in Africa, as well as the wider issues affecting these communities.

"Each lesson has a PowerPoint, each PowerPoint comes in two versions," says Mr Rorie, "one in which we have some learning intentions and success criteria and another one without it. So individual teachers, as well as following our course, can also use our materials to deliver it differently."

Further information at

`Tremendous' resource can reach across the curriculum

The new RME package developed at Northfield Academy in Aberdeen has been road-tested with children at the city's Walker Road Primary.

It can be used with P7s or secondary pupils with learning difficulties. There are alternative pages in the booklet with simpler vocabulary to suit children who might otherwise struggle.

"The materials are a tremendous teaching resource," says Northfield head Sue Muncer. "What struck me was their flexibility, the fact that they could be used in RME and in a number of other subjects."

The Order of St John in Scotland has provided 26 vehicles and built 10 bases for Scottish Mountain Rescue and has a second phase of bases and vehicles in the pipeline.

"We welcome this project," said Jonathan Hart, chairman of the Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland, "because it will help promote the 24 civilian, voluntary mountain rescue teams across Scotland, recognise St John's valuable support of them and increase awareness of responsible access for all those members of the public who enjoy venturing into our mountain and moorland environments, in summer and winter conditions."

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