Practice

Taking a lead in RE

 

Congratulations! You’ve been appointed to lead RE in your school! But what now? How will you know how well you are doing and, perhaps more to the point, how will you be able to demonstrate it? In a secondary school you might be able to point to examination successes or increasing numbers of pupils opting for Full Course GCSE or A level, but what about in an infant, junior, primary, middle or special school? And are exam results and option numbers the be-all-and-end-all of successful leadership anyway?

 

This section of RE:ONLINE presents a strategy for finding out how well you are doing as a leader and manager of RE and provides a series of ideas for demonstrating success.

 

How do I know how well I’m doing?

Essentially, leadership in RE is about setting up the conditions for good learning and teaching to take place.

 

Experienced subject leaders say that to be an effective subject leader in RE, it is important to ensure that you communicate your understanding of the principles of good RE to your teaching colleagues.

 

– How many of those teaching RE in your school know, for example, what the attainment targets and the six areas of enquiry are?
– An understanding of these principles can really help them get to grips with the planning of ‘compelling learning experiences’ in RE and also with assessing pupils’ progress. In short, it helps to make RE relevant and engaging for all children!

How well are pupils doing?

Ultimately, though, the question about how well YOU are doing comes down to how well the PUPILS are doing in RE. So if you think there is a lot of improvement that could be made there, the following guidance should help. If you think your pupils are achieving to the best of their ability and are really enjoying RE you’ve obviously got it cracked, but you might still like to study the following to see if there are ways of demonstrating this clearly to senior colleagues, governors and parents / carers.

 

As well as leadership there is also management of the RE in your school. Are you clear about the difference? Work your way through the leadership sections of RE:ONLINE to see how you can improve your skills, including ‘How to prepare for inspection’ and the ‘self-evaluation toolkit’.

 

In order to demonstrate how well you are doing in your leadership role you will need evidence. Click the links [below / on the right?] to reveal some basic sources of evidence that will be useful for you.

 

1. Documentation

 

Here is a checklist of materials you might gather together over time:
Leading Checklist PDF

Leading Checklist Doc

 

2.  Observation of lessons

 

According to how your school wants you to conduct your monitoring role as a subject leader / manager, it may be possible for you to conduct observations of RE lessons and interviews with children. Your senior leaders should provide agreed guidelines on how to conduct such observations.

 

Here are some examples of good teaching to look out for in RE lessons. Most of the criteria are true for a good lesson in any subject. Items more specifically related to RE are highlighted. Make a note of what you see – this is your evidence:
Observation Check List PDF

Observation Check List Doc

 

3. Discussion with pupils

 

One good way of monitoring RE is to take a small selection of pupils of different abilities out of a class to interview them about their learning.

 

Here are some questions you could ask, depending on the age of the pupils. Keep a note of the key points in their answers – this is your evidence:

 

Discussion Checklist PDF

Discussion Checklist Doc

 

4. Examination of pupils’ work

 

Subject leaders can collect and evaluate evidence on pupils’ standards and achievement by analysing their written and other work. As well as exercise books, attention could be given to pupils’ work appearing in classroom and other displays, material on a school website and collections of work placed in libraries or other areas of the school.
Examination Checklist PDF

Examination Checklist Doc

Planning and Assessment

Fundamental to your success as a subject leader / manager, will be the effectiveness of your planning. If you get this right, arrangements for assessing pupils’ work will be much easier!

 

There are three questions to tackle in relation to any curriculum plan:

 

1. What are we trying to achieve?
2. How will we organise the learning?
3. How well are we achieving our aims?

 

These questions are the same, whether you are trying to plan RE as a discrete subject or trying to do something more creative with other subjects or areas of the curriculum.

 

There are a variety of models for engaging in such planning, but don’t ignore the first question! It is most important to consider your pupils: what are they like? What to do they need? What will engage them and help them to learn?

 

Your next consideration is to consult your local agreed (or equivalent) syllabus. It is vital that you get to know your syllabus really well, and share its principles with colleagues teaching RE. Unless they appreciate the importance of RE (See Why RE) in a young person’s education and the rationale underpinning the RE syllabus, they may not engage as fully as you might hope in producing really compelling learning experiences for the pupils.

 

Use your RE syllabus programme of study to work out your overall plan for each key stage, taking into account the balance of religions and beliefs to be studied and the areas of focus for pupils’ learning. Many syllabuses make use of the ‘areas of enquiry’ recommended in the non-statutory national framework for RE. These are:

 

1. beliefs, teachings and sources;
2. practices and ways of life;
3. forms of expressing meaning;
4. identity, diversity and belonging;
5. meaning, purpose and truth;
6. values and commitments.

 

Many teachers find it helpful to focus a learning sequence on ONE of the first three areas alongside ONE of the second group of three, e.g. a unit of work combining areas A & D exploring Christian and Muslim beliefs about ‘ourselves and our communities’. Sometimes it is useful to turn the exploration into an enquiry, focusing work around a question like ‘Who helps us with what we need?’ or ‘How do religious and belief communities help people to live good lives?’

To plan RE in relation to other subjects of the curriculum, consult the guidance: Linking RE

 

And use the interactive planning tool to take you through the next stage

Assessment of pupils’ progress in RE

The areas that you select for your planning should be carried all the way through the sequence of lessons, so that assessment can then be matched to these focus areas. This is where many people find the Can Do Statements really helpful. See the Assessment section of RE:ONLINE for more information.

 

Suppose we keep to our example of a sequence of learning focusing on areas A and D as above. When it comes to planning activities that are amenable to assessment, you can choose appropriate level statements from the ‘can-do’ list as a prompt for the type of task(s) to set.

 

So, for example, imagine a year 3 or 4 class is learning about Jesus’ parable of the Lost (Prodigal) Son. Having taken part in some role play and drama relating to the story, a level 3 set of tasks for focus areas A & D might be for pupils to:

 

– explain what a Christian might learn from the story of the Lost Son (Area A);

 

and

 

– say which of the three characters is most like them and describe a time when they acted or felt like that (Area D).

 

If you judge that pupils are ready to move to level 4 type tasks, you might tell pupils a story about caring for others from another religion or belief, such as  the Hindu story of Krishna and Sudama, and ask pupils to go on to:

 

– make a written comparison between the actions of the Father in the story of the Lost Son and Krishna in the story of Sudama, highlighting aspects of their behaviour that Christians and Hindus might try to copy.

and

 

– write an imaginary interview with a Hindu and a Christian, with questions and answers that relate to the examples of good and not so good character expressed in the two stories.

Exemplification of levels

For examples of pupils’ work that exemplifies attainment at different levels: Level Examples

 

It is most important to read the introductory page before going on to consider the pupils’ work. Then, you might take some examples and discuss with colleagues how the standards being attained in your own classes compare.

The Principles of Assessing Pupil Progress (APP)

Essentially, there are three parts to the APP process. Teachers are advised to:

 

1. Consider: do your schemes of learning contain a broad range of assessable activities, including written and spoken tasks? – ensure that the workload is manageable by selecting key tasks for teacher-assessment, self-assessment and peer-assessment;
2. Review: can you track individual pupils against the assessment guidelines? – step back and take a broader view of pupils’ progress over time; and
3. Judge: does your evidence allow you to indicate the level at which each pupil is working? – share and discuss samples of your pupils’ assessed work to ensure consistency.

 

Overall, this approach is intended to reduce reliance on testing. As Black and Wiliam argue in their classic study, ‘Inside the Black Box’, 1998, Kings College, London, ‘Feedback to any pupil should be about the particular qualities of his or her work, with advice on what he or she can do to improve, and should avoid comparisons with other pupils’ (p.9).

 

Finally, consider how evidence about pupils’ progress is to be recorded. Here are some commonly used methods:

 

– recording names of pupils at either end of the achievement spectrum;
– using a mark-book with learning objectives listed in the columns;
– providing pupils with self- and peer-assessment sheets;
– making digital records;
– making ’comment books’ to scribe comments from pupils as they contribute to a discussion or debate. These can then be displayed.

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