Research of the Month

Are you looking for summaries of high-quality academic research that are relevant to classroom practice? For accounts of collaborations between teachers and researchers, or research projects undertaken by teachers? For ways to connect with Religion and Worldviews research? Our research of the month feature aims to refresh and develop your professional knowledge and to help you get up to date with what others are doing. Each month we will feature a new piece of research or choose one from our library to highlight.

We hope you will be able to use this monthly focus for personal professional development, as well as a source of reading group material for local or regional groups and hubs.

Our library stores concise reports of Religion and Worldview-relevant research from 2017 as well as links to historical policy documents.

December 2023

Analysing ‘decolonising pedagogy’ in secondary school Religious Education Lessons

Canterbury Christ Church University
John-Paul Riordan, Alexandra Brown, Katie Clemmey, Ciro Genovese, Nqobile Nkala, Sobantu Sibanda
Questions for consideration:

  • How is the teaching of philosophy as a discipline impacting student talk?
  • How can Tier 3 words support students to reason philosophically?
  • What impact does teaching argument related concepts have on students’ approach to philosophical arguments?

Who are we and what are we doing?

This project is a partnership between four secondary school RE teachers each with one of their own classes, and a team of five educational researchers from Canterbury Christ Church University. We are interested in understanding and explaining how decolonisation may be influencing secondary school RE classroom pedagogy. The phrase ‘decolonising pedagogy’ is ambiguous and could mean ‘the decolonisation of pedagogy’ and/or ‘pedagogy that aims to decolonise’ (we explore both). Two of the educational researchers are specialists in secondary RE (KC and CG), two in decoloniality (NN and SS), and one in classroom pedagogy analysis (JPR).

Why are we doing that?

The concept of coloniality is disputed (Veracini, 2013). One definition sees coloniality as “ongoing structure[s] of domination” (Paradies, 2016, p. 84). That understanding allows us to consider domination occurring in classrooms as potentially a type of coloniality. Additionally, school subjects (in particular history and RE) sometimes investigate colonialism. Some learners are educated in overtly colonised educational systems, such as classrooms in South Africa during the Apartheid era.

The ‘Decolonising the Curriculum’ and ‘Why is my curriculum white?’ movements challenge domination assumptions (Arday, Belluigi & Thomas, 2021). ‘Decoloniality’ is complex and can be understood in different ways (Gu, 2020). Attempting to capture decoloniality in a “new abstract universal” can, according to Mignolo and Walsh (2018, p. 1), be part of the problem. Since the ‘decolonial turn’ (Grosfoguel, 2007) many struggled with what ‘decolonialising pedagogy’ might be (Walton, 2018). Literature on decolonising pedagogy in secondary schools exists, but research regarding RE is rare. Decolonisation in school is not only about curriculum content and resources.

How are we doing that?

We used four video-based research methods. First, we made video recordings of four secondary RE lessons with four different teachers in four different schools. We asked the teachers to do no special preparation and to let us video record a lesson on an RE topic of their choice. Second, we invited each teacher to watch their lesson back and video recorded them as they ‘thought aloud’. These teacher interviews lasted between one and two hours depending on what the teacher decided. Third, we asked six volunteer pupils to watch video clips of the lesson for 30 minutes whilst again we video recorded their ‘thinking aloud’. Clips were chosen by the research team and the class teacher for pragmatic reasons as we thought watching the whole lesson back would have meant those interviews would be too long. Fourth, we invited all four teachers for a video-recorded focus group interview with the five researchers in the team. In total we recorded about 11 hours of video data and that is all available in the UK Data Service for research and teaching purposes (please get in touch if you want access).
We are exploring these video data using a variety of research designs. For example, one approach is to use Grounded Theory.

What have we found out?

The first theme we wrote about is ‘persuasion and control’ in the classroom. Literature on pedagogical persuasion was discussed and explored by Alexander et al., (2002) who argued that persuasion is neither inherently good nor bad. ‘Control’ of learners by teachers has long been discussed by teachers, policy makers, and researchers according to Maguire, Ball and Braun (2010). Managing disruptive behaviour of pupils in classrooms is a big concern of many teachers (Nash, Schlösser and Scarr, 2016). We present how often persuasion/control occurred during one of the lessons, then analyse three transcript excerpts to illustrate ‘decolonising pedagogy’ in practice.

The second theme we explored is ‘agreement and disagreement (including conflict)’ in the classroom. Decolonisation can involve disagreement and sometimes conflict. We think children need to learn about ‘healthy disagreement’ in the classroom. The project is ongoing.

Feedback and questions welcome (please contact John-Paul on

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