WHAT to assess in Religious Education
In religious education, just as in other subjects of the curriculum, there is a body of content that forms the basis of pupils’ study in the subject. In RE this will be built around selected aspects of religious and philosophical worldviews and will involve pupils in experience, research and study of religion and belief at ever more sophisticated levels.
Assessing Pupils’ Progress Without Levels
Building knowledge and understanding of specific content into the assessment scheme
Using levels in assessing pupils’ progress was removed from the curriculum in 2015 following a report from Professor Tim Oates. See this video for more information: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-q5vrBXFpm0
Pupils will still need to develop their skills in dealing with matters of religion and belief, even in the context of a trend towards a more ‘knowledge-based’ curriculum. But when it comes to selecting appropriate content for RE that pupils should ‘know about’ or understand’, it is helpful to consider what the MINIMUM content should consist of. What are the beliefs, practices and experiences at the heart of the religions and worldviews being studied? What are the key stories? Who are the crucial people whose lives and teaching exemplify those traditions? In what creative ways do adherents express and live out their most deeply held convictions?
And what about the nature of religion and belief itself? What are the big questions and how do different people set about answering them?
Once you have a picture of the minimum content, you can help pupils to ‘master’ or gain ‘command’ of the key information, gradually deepening understanding of the core ideas and principles. In this way pupils will acquire a sold foundation for further study.
There are several projects underway looking at possible ways of assessing pupils’ progress – and not just in RE. But in the meantime, RE:ONLINE’s lead consultant, Dave Francis, has been working with colleagues on a model that may be of interest (see How to assess in Religious Education > Learning Outcomes).
Levels of Attainment
What they assess and what they do not
At the moment most RE syllabuses still make reference to statements of attainment, though new guidance is being produced as these syllabuses are reviewed on their five-yearly cycle. In many current syllabuses, the level statements form the legal requirement for assessing pupils’ attainment and progress in the subject. Often, the statements are arranged in terms of two attainment targets (learning about religion and belief, and learning from religion and belief). Many syllabuses also refer to the ‘can-do’ statements, which have been written in ‘pupil-friendly’ language, and divided into six ‘strands’ or ‘areas of enquiry’.
In some Roman Catholic Diocesan and other religion-based syllabuses, other attainment targets are referred to, such as those relating to catechetical matters or faith development.
Level statements are generally intended to provide a guide to pupils’ progressive skills in evaluating the material being studied in religion and belief. At the beginner levels, pupils are expected to make successful use of such skills as remembering, recalling and recognising features of religion and belief. Pupils then build their skills in reflecting on and analysing the material by describing, comparing, asking questions, suggesting answers, researching and reasoning. At the higher levels, pupils will be investigating and interpreting matters of religion and belief, evaluating impact and weighing up the relative strengths and weaknesses of arguments and evidence, before coming to their own well-informed and reasoned judgements within particular contexts.
In order to make progress up the skills ladders, pupils will need to gain considerable facility with and knowledge of religious and philosophical worldviews. But the level statements do not guarantee exactly WHAT that facility and knowledge will consist of, nor which particular worldviews will be studied. Some RE syllabuses specify which religions and beliefs are to be studied and when; other syllabuses leave such decisions more in the hands of schools themselves.
Level statements do not specify content, therefore, and nor do they specify the particular attitudes to be assessed.
Which religions and worldviews should be studied?
The statutory requirements and options for which religions and worldviews must be studied will most usually appear in the appropriate RE syllabus for the school or academy. All such syllabuses, though, must conform to legal requirements.
According to the 1996 Education Act, locally agreed syllabuses have to ‘reflect the fact that the religious traditions of Great Britain are in the main Christian whilst taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain’. Academies and free schools that don’t have a religious designation can continue to follow a locally agreed syllabus, or, if they write their own, must also conform to this requirement, under the terms of their funding agreement.
In practice, this will mean that, in any three or four year cycle of RE learning, pupils will study aspects of Christianity as well as aspects of a number of other major religions. Statistically, according the 2011 census of England and Wales, the major religions other than Christianity (c.59%) are Islam (c.4.8%), Hinduism (c.1.5%), Sikhism (c.0.8%), Judaism (c.0.5%) and Buddhism (c.0.4%). Around 25% of those who replied to the census question said they had ‘no religion’.
The non-statutory national framework for RE (NSNFRE) published in 2004, states, ‘To ensure that all pupils’ voices are heard and the religious education curriculum is broad and balanced, it is recommended that there are opportunities for all pupils to study other religious traditions such as the Bahá’í faith, Jainism and Zoroastrianism and secular philosophies such as humanism’ (p.12). This was reaffirmed in the 2013 National Curriculum Framework for RE (NCFRE) which used the term ‘religions and worldviews’ to refer to ‘Christianity, other principal religions represented in Britain, smaller religious communities and non-religious worldviews such as Humanism’ (p.14).
A useful guide to appropriate content for the six ‘major’ religions at each key stage can be downloaded here: SCAA Key Features
Pupils’ attitudes to study and learning RE
Can we assess pupils’ attitudes to study and learning RE?
It should be noted that the giving of ‘levels’ in RE as in other subjects was always an artificial tool to help teachers and learners reflect on their achievements and plan further progress. They were never intended to be the ‘be all and end all’ of learning!
As well as helping pupils to deepen their knowledge and understanding of RE they should also be given feedback on how well they develop positive attitudes to study and learning. Here is one example. Attitudes of curiosity and fairness, for example, are not necessarily covered in assessment statements, but are certainly worthy of encouragement and recognition.
Some aspects of ‘attainment’ in RE may remain hidden. It is not the task of the teacher to grade pupils on their level of ‘spirituality’ for example. Teachers can only work with what is communicated, but should be sensitive to the variety of ways in which pupils may communicate their thinking. Just as teachers might comment on pupils’ behaviour, it is possible to encourage positive attitudes to study and learning in RE. Pupils need not have a positive attitude to any particular religion or philosophy of life, or indeed to religion in general, to do well in RE. What is important is that they adopt a positive approach to study and learning in the subject. That is, that they demonstrate a willingness to explore, reflect upon and examine aspects of human life, belief and culture that impact on the lives of individuals and communities. In RE there will be matters of great personal and global significance being addressed; pupils cannot expect to make progress in the subject if they are indifferent to such issues.
What should assessment activities look like?
Many RE syllabuses and their accompanying guidance, include examples of assessment activities. Many of these will be linked to level statements of attainment or the ‘can-do’ statements.
Many RE syllabuses and their accompanying guidance include examples of assessment activities. Many of these are currently linked to level statements of attainment or the ‘can-do’ statements. In time new models will emerge, but it may be helpful for the time being to compare pupils’ progress with the examples given here, using the ‘can-do’ statements: Level Examples