Spreading the word

10th October 2003 at 01:00
Support texts for religious studies are proliferating with the subject's growth in popularity, writes Terence Copley

PHILOSOPHY OF RELIGION FOR A-LEVEL. By Anne Jordan, Neil Lockyer and Edwin TateNelson Thornes pound;16

ETHICAL STUDIES. By Robert A BowieNelson Thornes pound;17

EXAMINING PHILOSOPHY AND ETHICS: Answers for A-level. By Patrick J ClarkeNelson Thornes pound;12.25

THE DIALOGUE ETHICAL THEORY. (special issue) By Robert KirkwoodDialogue Publications, PO Box 1098, Bircham, King's Lynn PE31 6XA. pound;37.50 per set of five + pound;4.95 pamp;p www.dialogue.org.uk

Philosophy of religion in AS and A2 religious studies continues to look like an invincible choice for teachers and students. It's understandable that some teachers feel a need to conceal from students that the subject they are doing is called religious studies, preferring instead to aim at such AS subject-choice conventions as philosophy and ethics or beliefs and values. A pity, because this perpetuates the embarrassment British people seem to have about the word religion. But whatever name their teachers are giving it, the growing student numbers in this option mean that more support texts are commercially viable, which is good news for everybody.

Jordan, Lockyer and Tate present a clearly written but very compressed text, visually broken up into sections, with "Something to think about" and "You need to know" summaries in the margin, and sample exam questions at the end of each chapter. Diagrammatic revision summaries appear at the end of the book. This is meaty text, which the student has to engage with.

Patrick Clarke offers a collection of essays on key exam questions for OCR, AQA and Edexcel, but they are not intended as model answers - he has allowed himself more words than exam time would allow - but to offer a selection of materials and help towards demonstrating understanding and evaluation as well as knowledge. There is a useful glossary at the end.

Bishop William Temple (he was in fact Archbishop, like his dad before him) is referred to as a contemporary of Charles Darwin (p73). Their dates are not given (1881-1944 and 1809-1882 respectively) so they are only just contemporaries. Charles Kingsley would be a better example of a sympathetic Christian contemporary of Darwin. Robert Bowie's book has 19 sections dealing with ethical theories, religion and ethics and specific issues, with useful appendices on study skills, essay writing, exam preparation and using the net to support learning in this field. It has large-font text with good subdivisions and useful bullet-point summaries at the end of each chapter.

It is 10 years since A-level RS teachers Jeremy Hall and John Waters founded Dialogue magazine (www.dialogue.org.uk), a dedicated publication for AS and A2 RS students with articles by leading theologians and philosophers, and pieces by examiners with advice and tips for students.

This has been supported by educational conferences for KS5 teachers and students, in which living legends of RS such as Peter Vardy appear in the flesh and make it all look easy. Dialogue has sustained a high level content and visual appeal - Hendrik Jonas illustrates this special edition - with information-packed text by Robert Kirkwood, helpfully broken up by questions and cartoons.

All this material comes from experienced professionals who teach the subject themselves, so it is very much focused on examination needs. It is a far cry from the days when A-level teachers could only use university-level texts to induct reluctant post-16 readers into the complexities of philosophy.

Has anything been lost in this era of pre-digested convenience texts? Undoubtedly. Key players appear often for only a few paragraphs at most.

Students seem to be encouraged merely to learn to name-drop in their quest for exam success. Yet students need accessible, comprehensible texts that address their exam syllabuses. It is the teacher's use of these texts which remains the crucial element in ensuring the educational success - and the exam results - of the teaching-learning process. Teachers have to make the big names scattered through these texts come alive.

Terence Copley is professor of RS at Exeter University

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