Curriculum choice is keeping me awake at night – Katie Gooch

AREIAC 2019’s conference was entitled Agents of Change: RE Leadership in a New World.
A New World; state of flux; uncertainty; chaos; challenging times. One RE adviser laughed, “When has RE not been in challenging times?”. As an “emerging leader” in the RE community, I must confess to being excited by this New World – in it I see potential, I see opportunity, I see hope. But, like many hopeful leaders, I don’t really know where to start.

I don’t know where to start was the point Ben Wood, Chair of NATRE and Head of RE at Haslingden High School, made in his reflections on how to change a curriculum. As a RE subject lead currently grappling with curriculum choice, I felt an enormous sense of relief listening to Ben. If he, who has read widely, shared widely and climbed to the top of the RE game, doesn’t know where to start, it’s OK that I am still deeply uncertain. Hear this, RE Subject leaders – uncertainty is OK. Don’t let the fact that, as Ben admits, the curriculum occasionally keeps us awake at night lead to paralysis. Maybe, due to the paradox of choice, we will never be satisfied.

Ben argues for the value of constraint as we consider our curriculum choices, he suggests we should enforce constraints on ourselves that chiefly concern us as teachers in school. Constraints of time, planning the planning, using subject knowledge and playing to our own strengths. Your constraints will depend on your school your circumstances. I feel now, it’s OK to take the time to look before I leap in curriculum choice – with the knowledge that I will have to leap!

Curriculum choice is keeping me awake at night. I anticipated hearing Mary Myatt speak on Curriculum: Controversies, Concepts and Conversations. Since initial RE CPD, I have been profoundly influenced by her philosophy: RE should have beauty and depth. Mary reminds us to run our schools for our children not inspectors; OFSTED are not looking for anything – they are looking at what we’re doing. When planning our curriculum, we must begin with the end – what do we want children to know at the end? It is too easy to get caught up in content and to forget that RE needs to be underpinned by demanding concepts, big ideas – we’re trying to make our learners think. We must privilege thinking over task completion, this is important for the teacher to remember in the classroom – this is empowering.

Richard Kueh too spoke of empowerment. In these times of change, we need to prioritise RE teacher agency, we must nourish, nurture, strengthen and challenge our teachers. When shaping and crafting teacher agency, teachers must have intellectual confidence, without which they are left to drown in complexity. Richard pointed out, to a room full of advisers, that there was a gulf between advisers and emerging leaders in the classroom – there is a tension here, can we make this a productive tension? There is a need for mentoring, for transformative change leading to a community of professional hybrids. Advisers must cultivate teacher agency beyond the classroom to ensure a legacy which elevates beyond new heights.

This is where my own story jigsaws in, as one of the first cohort of AREIAC REvitalise mentees. I am a HLTA who has been leading RE in a large primary school for nine years, during which time I have carried out research, led CPD, completed leadership programmes and led our school to the gold REQM. Over the last year, I have benefited from the mentoring support of Jan McGuire, an RE Adviser and former teacher. The personalised guidance of an experienced mentor has “bridged the gulf” between adviser and this emerging leader, this “professional hybrid”. At the conference, I shared with delegates how REvitalise has been a professionally formative experience. During this year, in which I became the NATRE East Anglia Regional Ambassador, culminating at the AREIAC conference, I had the opportunity to think beyond the classroom, beyond my school, my MAT, my region to a “New World” national RE agenda. These bigger picture considerations I now feel empowered to take back to my region, my MAT, my school and back to my classroom, which is after all, where the big picture really matters.

Katie Gooch
RE Subject Lead – Sidegate Primary School
NATRE East Angia Regional Ambassador

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