Our journey to understanding ‘worldviews’ in school

We are delighted to be launching a new summer blog series called ‘Opening up conversations about religion and worldviews’. This blog series is being run in collaboration with the RE Policy Unit, a partnership between NATRE, the RE Council and RE Today. It will include contributions from a wide range of teachers, those working in initial teacher education and researchers in this field.

The Commission on RE (2018) was an eagerly awaited report by many in the RE world. One of the highlights of this report was the way in which the commissioners carried out their investigations into RE. My previous school was lucky enough to be a part of this process. Juliet Lyal, one of the commissioners, came to visit us to talk about what the children thought RE was and should be. I remember part of this discussion was about ‘worldviews’. At the time, we had been using language such as ‘non-religious worldview’. Juliet and I talked about how the term ‘worldview’ could be, and was potentially, confusing for our children in school as it could lead them to thinking only about beliefs that were not related to religion. Later that evening, Juliet came to talk to our Plymouth Hub about the commission’s work and, again, we realised that there was some confusion amongst teachers over the use of ‘worldviews’.

Many people have written in the past about the purpose of RE and it seems that there is still confusion about this in the RE community. There have also been many arguments about changing the name of RE to Religion and Worldviews. I have no problem with changing the name of the subject but my concern is that, if we have pupils and teachers who aren’t sure what we mean by the name of the subject or the reasoning behind using ‘worldviews’, how can we ever really move forward as a subject community?

After moving schools eighteen months ago, I was in the very fortunate position of being able to work alongside the rest of the Senior Leadership Team to redesign our RE curriculum. This also coincided with Devon SACRE launching the new Agreed Syllabus, a perfect time to consider change. It was initially tempting to change the name of the subject straight away, especially as I was hearing that many talented colleagues in our subject community had already done this. As a teacher and subject lead, I was eager for the children to take ownership of this journey towards ‘Religion and Worldviews’, so that they really understood the vocabulary that we were using and also the subject that we were teaching.

A few years ago, I attended ‘Strictly RE’ and listened to Stephen Pett (RE Today Services) talk about where we stand when we enter the RE classroom as professionals. Although I had always been aware of this when I was teaching RE, Stephen’s seminar had a huge impact upon my thinking. I have repeatedly thought back to this seminar and the way in which it clearly explained what we do as professionals. This got me thinking not only about where we as professionals stand but also where the children stand when they enter the RE classroom. I felt that this was a clear way to start explaining the term ‘worldview’ with even our youngest children at our school. I started by asking the children questions like, ‘Are there people in the world that influence the way that you think about things (we linked this to celebrities and sports personalities)? Do you have thoughts and ideas about the beyond? Do you talk about what we have studied after our RE lessons and do these discussions change your mind about the things that we have learnt?

We were then able to link these discussions with the Andrew Ricketts’ Spirituality grids (The Diocese of Salisbury 2015). The children used these grids with their class teacher to consider big questions linked to themselves, the world, the beyond and creation. These ideas are all recorded in class that move with the children through the school so we reference these as being the development of understanding their own worldviews.

During our RE lessons we are careful to talk in-depth about diversity within religion and belief even with our very young children. This helps pupils to understand that even within religion there is a diversity within an organised worldview and although two people may follow a belief they can have a different worldview. We have invited visitors into school to discuss their worldviews within our RE lessons and most recently hosted a debate about science and creation with two Christians from different denominations and a Buddhist. This enabled our children to see diversity first-hand between one worldview but also how people with different worldviews talk, share, debate, discuss and learn from each other.

Our next steps are to continue to develop children’s understanding of what ‘worldview’ means and what it means for RE. These next steps will include having some pupil voice discussions about whether we change the name of our subject. As a school, we want to ensure that the children understand the concept of a worldview and also use key vocabulary to share their understanding of this in relation to their study of RE.

In my opinion, changing the name is only right if we know and understand the reasons for doing so. We also need to ensure that the children have ownership and understanding of it; this needs to be a journey because otherwise the children won’t understand what the subject is about. This will result in us coming full circle back to debating the purpose of RE and changing the name of the subject .

Katie Freeman, Bickleigh Down CofE Primary School