Last week I attended the AULRE 2019 conference in Birmingham. AULRE is an association of members interested in learning, teaching and research in religion and education. This year around 70 delegates attended, this included university lecturers, PGCE tutors, advisers, consultants and teachers.
Not surprisingly, responses to and critique of the Commission on RE (2018) report flavoured many of the keynotes and papers presented. Joyce Miller stressed the importance of the inclusive nature of the report which she argued comprehensively presents a vision for all. She made a case for understanding the socio-political context of RE, re-examining the content of the subject through overarching conceptual categories and embracing the term ‘worldview’ as a way of providing meaning to the subject for all. She hinted at ways in which a Buddhist worldview might be explored through the vision of the Commission. I found this inspiring and hope Joyce will go on to consider other ways in which the Commission’s vision may become a reality. This has the potential to transform curriculum design in our subject and impact on classroom practice.
I attended a number of parallel papers, and one common theme running through them was the importance of the teacher’s context, career journey and own worldview when considering how they understand the subject of RE. For example, one researcher talked about how teacher’s understanding of the subject might be more relational or more subject focussed. Some teachers may have a stronger sense of vocation, some are influenced by policy change, but others are not. Professional learning was regarded as important in terms of implementing policy changes. If teachers do not engage with professional learning the research found that teachers were not aligned to policy changes and would often continue as before. There is a huge overlap between subject construction and the identity of the teacher. This provides some important questions for policy makers who want to bring about change. For example, it shows the importance of professional learning when a new agreed syllabus is introduced or when new approaches to teaching and learning are advocated such as the RE:searchers project or a resource like Understanding Christianity. In addition, if the recommendations from the Commission are to be taken forward, it shows how important the engagement of teachers is in this process.
One piece of research suggested that an understanding of the aims of RE is rarely static for a teacher. One important point made was that teachers are influenced by socio-cultural factors as well as ontological (beliefs about the subject) and epistemological (knowledge of the subject) ones. When beginner teachers embark on their careers the epistemological factors are very strong as they learn about the subject, but as they progress through their career the socio-cultural factors often become much stronger. In fact, it was argued that sometimes the epistemological factors have no bearing on the teacher at all once they are an established teacher unless they engage with research. This raised some important questions for me about the importance of interaction between researchers and teachers and the value of action research especially during times of change.
Chief Executive, Culham St Gabriel’s Trust
Keynote: Dr Joyce Miller: Religion and worldviews- the way forward?
Parallel Paper given by Dr Elizabeth Russell
Parallel Paper given by Alexis Stones