How I… am writing a rigorous primary curriculum – AJ Smith

Over the last two terms I have been taking on the rather daunting task of re-writing a primary curriculum from Year 1 to Year 6. The aim of this new curriculum was to build something rigorous, knowledge-focused and exciting to not only prepare our students for secondary school, but to give them a good level of religious literacy for the rest of their lives. Although I am now a primary teacher, I trained, and until recently worked as, a secondary RE teacher.

One of the biggest shocks I have had in transferring to primary was a realisation of just how much KS1 and KS2 students are capable of. Never did I think I’d be able to cover Aquinas and Augustine with Year 4 or be able to properly consider Buddhist approaches to suffering with Year 6 or even to discuss the finer points of how prayers are answered with Year 1. This shock has given me the confidence needed to build a curriculum for our context that is ambitious in its content and hopefully this article will help you do the same. I’m going to introduce three key ways to help with that: reduce, reuse and recycle.


It may seem counterintuitive but reducing how much you try to cover in your curriculum might be the key to making it rigorous. We spend all of KS1 just introducing the key concepts in Islam and Christianity. It lays the groundwork for an in-depth discussion of those two faiths in KS2 but also for introductions to other faiths with which they can draw comparisons. Similarly it is okay to reduce the amount of content you want to use in one lesson so you can work on just securing one concept or, perhaps even just taking the time to re-cap and re-embed material already taught.


It is important then to be economical with the time we have to teach RE. By introducing key concepts early-on and re-capping them many times we are not only building a fluency in the subject but also saving time.

For example, I chose to introduce the idea of ‘faith’ very early on in Year 1 so that students understood the difference between observing a physical object and having belief in a deity. That concept then gets further embedded in Year 2 when we talk about the Bible and Qur’an and life of Muhammad, embedded even further in Year 3 talking about Judaism, Allah, and Christian prayer. By the time students get to Year 4 we can begin to test the concept out a bit more and create some fluency around it so we begin to talk about non-religious worldviews and how they view faith and then in Year 5 we talk about how faith can be tested by war so that in Year 6 we can even start to think about the ways in which faith is, or is not, always necessary in a religion.


I, like every primary teacher I know, am a magpie when it comes to planning. We know how important effective explanations are to good teaching and, when it comes to planning RE for other teachers, we know that good pre-planned explanations can help cover gaps in subject knowledge. Therefore, when there is a tough concept I want to introduce, I reach for the stack of books by my desk and see how other writers have introduced this concept then I recycle it. I will think about how they explain things and adapt it for the age group and previous knowledge of those it will be taught to. You can find my recommendations for good subject knowledge boosters here.


AJ Smith

Primary teacher and RE specialist


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