Religious Education in School
It is true to say that the opportunities for Christian work in schools have changed over the past 20 or so years. Once upon a time there was a very close link between church and schools, all schools, when the local church might well have expected to be welcome in the local high school, or the primary school on your estate, to run Mission Weeks or assemblies which proclaimed the love of God to all who were in attendance. We have moved from that position to one where the local church or its representatives need to earn the trust of the school, where schools who had an ill-judged assembly run by eager 18yr olds on a gap year with their local Schools Work Trust are understandably wary when the next Christian comes knocking on their door. Nowadays those who are welcomed with open arms are those with something on offer that the school struggles with. This is often mentoring one-to-one or small group work, yes, even in Primary schools. It might also be the offer of RE lessons. My dream is that we might see ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ teaching of RE in all schools and that as Schools Workers we might have the privilege of supporting at least the Christianity element of this.
But it’s important that RE is not only about Christianity! In this current climate pupils need to have a really good understanding of the major world religions to know why we think like we do, why other people think like they do and the impact of that on each of our lives. High quality teaching of RE is one of our first lines of defence against racism and discrimination, if not THE first. Learning about faith(s) and from faith(s) is not only the Holy Grail of RE teaching but is also crucial to broadening young people’s education and preparing them to live in the world as it is today. I would argue in fact that, along with good PSHE, it is the most essential topic of all those taught at KS3 & 4 in particular. Which other subject really offers pupils the chance to ask big questions about life and death? Which other subject has the potential to tackle issues that surround our children like family breakdown and divorce, bereavement and grief or give options for how to deal with difficult things in life that steer away from substance misuse or other unhealthy coping mechanisms? But then I’m rather biased having had a passionate interest in the teaching of these two subjects throughout most of my working life!
How do we go about offering this support to your local school, or the school(s) you work in? Well, whether you’re starting from scratch or simply re-visiting your programmes for next year already (if it’s the latter: go you! Starting early on planning the following year can only be a good thing) you need to do your research. If you don’t already know, find out how your local school or the school you work in delivers RE: go and talk to the RE Subject Leader or another key member of staff. If you already have a programme of delivering some of the RE then you might be looking for new ideas or extending what you deliver. Whichever is the case it will be helpful to know which curriculum your school is following so you can sound knowledgeable when you speak to staff. If this is the first time you’ve thought about offering RE lessons then the curriculum will help you understand which topics to offer a session on.
Another important player in the teaching of RE is your local SACRE. This is the body who decide what is taught in your area. Find out who sits on this committee, it’ll be on your County Council’s website, as membership is a matter of public record. You’ll also be able to see where there are vacancies on this committee – there ought to be representation from each Christian denomination that is present in your county plus representatives from other major faiths in the area. I would suggest that if there’s a space on that committee where you fit, join it! They always need input from people who are passionate about keeping RE on the curriculum and ensuring it is taught well in their local schools.
A good schools worker learns to be a good networker, making connections with people that will support the work you do, will give you good constructive feedback and a good recommendation when you’re looking to expand your work into other schools. A good networker makes links with all kinds of people because you never know when that connection will be useful. Having good inter-faith links will mean you can connect other faith leaders with your local school. Joining the local SACRE will give you good inter-faith links and make you invaluable to schools who need to teach Judaism or Islam but have no idea who to ask to make it meaningful.
There are lots of places you can look for resources: places like NATRE or REOnline; Flame Creative Kids; SchoolsWorkUK; Scripture Union; and REinspired, to name but a few.
Here are two ideas for teaching on Prayer – a key topic in the RE curriculum, for each of the major faiths. I’ve indicated where the activity is Learning About or Learning From – both are important! I would bear in mind that talking about prayer can lead to children making disclosures that need recording – be aware of your school’s Safeguarding procedures!
Infants: Use the TSP model. Before you go: You could use the prayer cubes from Flame Creative Kids, with this age range I would suggest you do the cutting out and some of the trickier folding before you go. Tell the children this is a really easy way for Christians to remember how to pray. As you introduce yourself and the session to the children give out the flat cubes and demonstrate how to fold them and stick them together – you’ll probably need the help of the teacher and other adults who might be with your class. When the cubes have been stuck, make sure you have the class’s attention again and explain that Thanks prayers could include thanks for friends, family or our homes, food on our tables etc. Sorry prayers will be when Christians need to say sorry for stuff they’ve done wrong and Please prayers can include all sorts of different things (Learning About). Emphasise that these things are good to get used to doing: it’s good to be thankful/sorry and it’s good to consider carefully what we might need rather than always thinking about what we want. Get the children to use the cubes, roll them like a dice and then think about what they might say ‘thanks’ ‘sorry’ ‘please’ about, if they want to tell you or others they can but do ensure they know they don’t have to (Learning From). It’s important that you don’t ask the children to pray about these things. You could offer to pray for some of the things they mention in your own prayer times, but do check with the teacher that this will be OK before you say it!
Juniors: Use the Lord’s Prayer. Before you go: Print out a suitable version on coloured paper, cut out the different phrases and put in envelopes – enough for groups of 4 or pairs. Ask the teacher to have the Just Pray advert ready to play or ensure you have a laptop that will connect to the screen/whiteboard (schools don’t generally like USB sticks from an outside source as they are vulnerable to corruption) and the know-how to connect it.
Begin the lesson by telling the class that you’ll be looking at the Lord’s Prayer as this is the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray and the most well-known prayer across the world. Give out the envelopes in groups or pairs for them to put in order (Learning About). Ask children to talk about what they think the different phrases mean – you could pick out phrases like ‘Daily Bread’ ‘Temptation’ and ‘Trespasses/Sins’ as well as ‘Your Kingdom come’ Give them a few minutes to think about it, you could play the Just Pray advert after a few moments (find it on Youtube or get in touch with the Church of England via their website to request permission to download for use in school), explaining afterwards that this was produced to show how many people use this prayer to pray in very different situations, illustrating that Christians believe that anyone can pray at any time. Ask whole class to think about how they might write the Lord’s Prayer in a modern context, and write this out on the whiteboard or have a Powerpoint slide ready to be written on displayed on the whiteboard (Learning From).
Seniors: Look for resources especially on the REInspired website. The best lesson I’ve seen on prayer for Secondary school was using Youth Alpha’s question of ‘Why do Christians Pray?’ produced by REInspired.