My RE Research Journey
My RE research journey began in 1998 when the Deputy Head of the infant school I was teaching at put a leaflet about Farmington Institute Millenium Awards in my hand and suggested this might be of interest to me. I began to think about what might be useful to research, eventually deciding to explore the importance of first hand experience in Key Stage 1 children’s knowledge and understanding of religions. It seemed to me that in every other subject the importance of first hand experience was recognised but in RE this was less true, particularly with regards to religions other than Christianity. My first application was unsuccessful but following further work on my ideas I was successful the following year and was awarded a Fellowship for the 2000-2001 academic year. My first Farmington Conference in Summer 2000 provided my first experience of attending presentations where I would learn from Secondary colleagues and begin to see that I could learn from research not aimed at my own phase of education.
I spent the 2001 summer term in Oxford and was guided by my tutor Nick Mead at Westminster College, which had become part of Oxford Brookes at the start of that academic year. I learnt about background reading, referencing, designing a research interview and so much more. I also benefited from time to think through my reading and the outcomes of my research questionnaires and interviews. I also realised how much I learnt by watching others teach. At the end of my term my headteacher, Jenny Cripps, travelled down from Scunthorpe to be there for my presentation. This was a real encouragement to me and made me feel valued.
My research had demonstrated to me that first hand experience did appear to have an impact and so I discussed with my headteacher changes that we might put into place to make this possible. One of our changes was to change the second religion studied to Sikhism. We have a Gurdwara locally, the Sikh community were open to visitors and this would enable our children to have that first hand experience. I also felt it was important to enable my colleagues to have the same experience and so I arranged for us to visit the Gurdwara for a Staff Meeting. My colleagues found the opportunity to meet faith members in person and talk to them to be a valuable experience. It improved their subject knowledge and raised the profile of RE in the school significantly.
Before I started my Farmington I had been considering undertaking an MEd. By the time I had completed my Farmington I had decided that I wanted my further study to be in the field of Religious Education. I spent a few months researching the available options, finding out which universities offered suitable courses and then working out which would be best for me. In 2002 I began a part time MA in Religious Education with the University of Warwick.
My time with Warwick provided me with much challenge. To study for an MA in RE when the only qualification I had was my Farmington was a very steep learning curve. There were many times when I wondered what I had got myself into! However with the support and encouragement of Professor Robert Jackson and his colleagues I discovered that yes I was capable of study at this level. My first module introduced me to the Warwick approach to Religious Education, an approach that was grounded in the research carried out by Jackson and his colleagues. As I studied I was challenged to recognise the impact of my own worldview on how I perceived the world around me. I also learnt about the variety of lived experience within different religions, something I had not really considered before.
My MA also provided me with my second experience of small scale research, this time into the use of ICT in RE, this being the early days of computers for teachers and the beginning of the rollout of interactive whiteboards. How the world has changed since then!
This research showed me how I could apply approaches from other subjects in RE. I did not create something novel, but I did learn how to adapt ideas and apply tools to RE.
One significant impact of my exposure to research just a few years into my career was to make me much more research aware. I had learnt about different types of research, about how an approach to education was built on research. I had also learnt that research carried out in one phase of education could have relevance in other phases.
All this meant that I would look at the research behind ideas and gave me a deeper understanding of the scope of research and of the importance of sample size for example. When research is mentioned in a staff meeting I am quite likely to go and look up the original article to find out more both about the findings, about the confidence in these and about confidence in the impact of the approach.
For the past few years I have been thinking about restarting my research journey. For various reasons, both personal and professional the time did not seem right. Then last year I was fortunate to be accepted onto the Culham St Gabriel’s Stage 2 Leadership Programme. This has given me the opportunity to engage in a small scale research project again with support from my mentor, Gillian Georgiou, who has challenged and encouraged me. I have taken the opportunity to engage in research that extends beyond my comfort zone, beyond the phase of education that I have worked in for my whole career, looking at the impact of a multi disciplinary approach to RE in both the primary and the secondary phase of education. Doing this has helped me to realise that we have much in common from Early Years through to Key Stage 5.
As I consider what the next step on my research journey will be and how I will undertake it I have realised that learning from other key stages is not a one way process. I realised very early on in my research journey that I could learn from approaches used by colleagues in Key Stages 4 and 5. I am increasingly realising that the opposite is true and that colleagues in those phases can learn from approaches used by those of us working in Early Years…
Catriona Card is a Reception teacher and the RE Subject Leader at Berkeley Primary School in Scunthorpe. She has been a member of the NATRE executive since 2015.