How I… boosted the popularity of RS at GCSE – Kim Clarke
03 April, 2020
In September 2017, I started what I could only describe as my dream job. A supportive, local secondary modern school appointed me as Subject Leader of RS. I was to teach from KS3 to A Level. I couldn’t be more excited to get started.
One thing, however, troubled me. In a larger than average school, I taught only twenty students in Year 11. The Year 10 cohort numbered twenty-seven. Whilst this made for an easy marking load, it didn’t bode well for the survival of the subject as a GCSE option and put our A Level numbers in jeopardy. Something had to be done at Key Stage 3 in order to boost the numbers.
The most obvious place to start was with the Year 9 course – my priority was to ‘sell’ the subject as a challenging, respected GCSE option, and one that would prepare students for life in modern Britain. In line with the SACRE Agreed Syllabus, I kept the first half of the year focusing on Sikhism but introduced a Philosophy module for the latter half. Broadly inspired by the ‘Existence of God’ theme from the OCR GCSE, this module introduces topics such as evil and suffering, arguments for the existence of God and religious experience. I was also keen to bring in a lot of discussion and evaluation – so P4C techniques and Socratic Circle discussions feature heavily.
However, I knew it wouldn’t be enough just to re-write Year 9. In order to promote sustainable growth and genuinely attract students to the subject (as opposed to them choosing it to fill a spot on their timetables), Year 7 and 8 needed well-resourced, challenging and interesting lessons. A further challenge was posed by the large number of non-subject specialists teaching RS across the two years – I needed to ensure that they felt confident and supported in delivering lessons which stretched and enthused the students.
I had inherited a handful of schemes of work and a few resources which didn’t have the depth that I felt was needed. I decided to re-start from the Agreed Syllabus. We decided to keep Years 7 and 8 to comparative religion, exploring Christianity and Buddhism in Year 7, allowing students to build on their work from KS2, and Islam and Judaism in Year 8. This meant that students could draw comparisons between Islam and Judaism and see the overlaps – important in promoting the British Values of individual liberty and respect of those with different faiths. We introduced a further module at the end of Year 7 called ‘Big Questions’, which boosted listening and debate skills through exploring the nature of humanity and morals from Buddhist, Humanist and Christian perspectives. I was keen to promote student-led working and independence, as well as keeping lessons fairly fast paced, so we have lots of ‘chunked’ activities and mini-plenaries throughout to assess understanding. Lastly, I wanted to emphasise the academic value of RS in terms of developing written skills, so we have embedded evaluation questions in order to develop empathy and appreciation of different views.
To say that I have been pleased with the results of the re-development would be an understatement. From a cohort of twenty, now over sixty students have chosen RS as one of their GCSE options to start next year, tripling our numbers in three years. From three in our current Year 13 class, we are set to have 15 A Level students start in September. I haven’t declared the RS lessons ‘finished’ yet – I’m exploring a re-design of KS3 to introduce a more thematic based approach, however it is clear that students value the challenge and depth of study that our subject can offer.
Subject Leader of RS at a secondary school in Buckinghamshire