How I… brought about a curriculum revolution in RE – Matthew Lane
12 March, 2020
Change is not something humans do well. Starting a new job is listed as one of the most stressful events in our lives, so when the new Norfolk Agreed Syllabus called for a new curriculum and new pedagogy in RE, it was a revolution that would require empathetic leadership and lots of planning.
At the heart of the new Syllabus is a multi-disciplinary pedagogy (often called Balanced RE). The approach explores suggested key questions through three lenses: theological (thinking through believing and studying sacred texts), philosophical (thinking through thinking) and the human & social sciences (thinking through living). Students apply each of these lenses equally over the course of a year, using all three lenses to a greater or lesser degree within each unit. The new Syllabus gives suggested units and key questions with a focus on comparing and contrasting religions and to foster “informed conversations about religions and world views”.
To begin our revolution, I firstly – and most importantly – made clear the reason for change: using Balanced RE as our pedagogy supported the aims of the new Agreed Syllabus and would enhance our teaching. I was honest about the challenges ahead and how I would be supporting staff to overcome them as this would be a major change from what we have done before. Risk assessing the change and planning ahead not only negates issues but also reassures staff you are thinking about them.
Talking the talk was easy, now staff had to walk the walk. I gave out sample units so staff could use the new pedagogy without the added work of designing new lessons. Staff were invited to adapt current units to the new pedagogy if this better suited their long-term plans. Giving staff a choice garnered support for the change. For 6 months we trialed units and met regularly to share successes and improve subject knowledge through CPD. Whilst this change was for the benefit of pupils, it was the staff delivering the revolution, so my time and budget was concentrated on them.
With the start of a new academic year, it was time to fully launch the new curriculum. Communication is key: I regularly updated the Curriculum documents, so staff had a single central source to refer to – especially after CPD to include new content or to address questions. Between the various guides, curriculum maps and unit templates these writings are at 12,000 words and counting! We continued to meet each half term for staff to share their success and for me to share what I had been less successful with in my own lessons. A little humility won a lot of support and allowed me to highlight points for development for the staff whilst using my own teaching as a talking point.
Staff training became key. I developed training in conjunction with our school’s vicar (who just happened to have previously been a Secondary RE teacher) and another member of staff with a Theology background. There was not a ready supply of external agencies to provide Primary RE CPD so we designed and built our own. Yes, it was scary to do – but it was also really successful.
Two years in the revolution is still going strong. Staff are confident in the new pedagogy and have taken the new curriculum in great directions I had not expected. I am now more the “guide on the side” than leading from the front. This revolution has been full of smiles and accomplishment which has shown me the importance of teaching our own teachers.
If you would like to read about how Matthew used John Kotter’s 8 Step-Process for Change Management to support this revolution, you can find his article published in TES https://www.tes.com/magazine/article/how-lead-curriculum-revolution (paywall).