Big20 Questions20 In20 Classrooms
Aug 22, 2022

Policymakers Take Note of Big Questions in Classrooms

A government report reviewing factors that influence the quality of religious education (RE) in schools in England has cited a number of TWCF grantees.

By Templeton Staff

Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills in the UK, published a report on the teaching of religious education (RE) in England. This government report explores literature related to the field of RE to identify factors contributing to high-quality RE curriculums and the teaching of RE curriculums, assessments, and systems.

Religious education (RE) in England offers "a rich discourse about the religious and non-religious traditions that have shaped Great Britain and the world," states Ofsted. "RE in primary and secondary schools enables pupils to take their place within a diverse multi-religious and multi-secular society. At its best, it is intellectually challenging and personally enriching. It affords pupils both the opportunity to see the religion and non-religion in the world, and the opportunity to make sense of their own place in that world."

In the report, three pillars of progression are used to look at RE in primary and secondary school levels. The pillars are different types of knowledge used in RE curriculums. Progression comprises knowing more and remembering more of these pillars as they are set out within the RE curriculum. The pillars are:

  • Substantive knowledge: knowledge about various religious and non-religious traditions

  • Ways of knowing: pupils learn "how to know" about religion and non-religion

  • Personal knowledge: pupils build an awareness of their own presuppositions and values about the religious and non-religious traditions they study.

The report has also identified challenges to high-quality RE, including insufficient time to teach an ambitious RE curriculum; lack of consideration about what it means to "be scholarly" in objective, critical and pluralistic RE; a lack of clarity on what constitutes reliable knowledge about religion/non-religion; and other concerns. However, the report concludes that literature suggests many improvements "are already taking place in the sector in subject communities and in some schools. The significant interest that RE attracts from a range of organizations and associations may also indicate that there is sufficient capacity to support improvements in RE in primary and secondary schools for the benefit of pupils."

TWCF's Big Questions in Classrooms (BQiC) priority supports projects that aim to spark curiosity about “how knowledge works” among students and teachers, domains of science and religious education, in England and beyond. The Ofsted report cites a number of Templeton World Charity Foundation grantees whose research was funded under BQiC:

Michael Reiss and Tamjid Mujtaba, TWCF-funded project: Broadening Secondary School Science, University College London The report refers to Reiss and Mujtaba's study of students' perceptions of religion and science, and the relationship between them. From the Ofsted report:  "A lack of consideration of the nature of knowledge can also result in pupils’ misunderstandings about the credibility of religion, as well as the difference between types of knowledge in RE and in other subjects."

Nigel Fancourt, Jessica Chan, Liam Guilfoyle, as part of TWCF-funded project: Argumentation in Science and Religious Education: An Interdisciplinary Study in British Schools, directed by Sibel Erduran, University of Oxford ‘Argumentation’ is explained in RE as the ability to coordinate knowledge and values in reaching justified conclusions. The Ofsted report is discussing expectations about what constitutes an ‘argument’ in RE when it references work by Fancourt, Chan, and Guilfoyle.

Jo Pearce, Alexis Stones, & Michael Reiss, TWCF-funded project: What Distinctive Contribution Does Religious Education Make to the Development of Epistemic Literacy in Relation to Big Questions in Religion and Science? University College London Research efforts by members of this team were cited when the Ofstead report mentioned ideas about "proof" and "truth" playing "very different roles in scientific conversations compared with religious ones. High-quality RE can play a clear role in developing pupils’ literacy about types of knowledge in the world; poor-quality RE can cause confusion and misconceptions."

Trevor Cooling and Commission on Religious Education, TWCF-funded project: Religion and Worldviews in the Classroom. Syllabus Building: Principles, Tools, and Exemplification, The Religious Education Council of England and Wales Ofstead refers to Cooling's work when it mentions the range of terms and established conventions within RE subject literature used by professionals and researchers. The report references Cooling when discussing how "simply covering a greater number of religious and non-religious traditions (as inclusive as that sounds) is no guarantee of a high-quality RE curriculum. This overloads the curriculum and might lead to superficial caricatures of religious and non-religious traditions." In its Appendix of pedagogical models in RE, Ofsted notes Cooling's work: Concept-cracking: Exploring Christian Beliefs in School.

Bob Bowie, TWCF-funded project: The Beginning Teacher in the Science/Religion Encounter: Building Confidence for an Integrated Vision of Knowledge, Canterbury Christ Church University Research by Bowie is noted in the report when it mentions how legislating specifically designated percentages of time to RE can "generate problems and unintentionally cause tensions by devoting more time to some religious or non-religious traditions. It can also prevent pupils from exploring the connections between traditions or even imply that there are no connections."