What’s New? An A Level Digest

October 2023

Written by Rachael Jackson-Royal our Post -16 digest is full of interesting, useful and relevant books, articles, videos and podcasts. Whether to develop and improve your own development and understanding, or to bring to the classroom, you will find fresh ideas for A Level.

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Rachael Jackson-Royal is head of department of RE and is the exams and higher education officer on the NATRE executive.

This A level digest is a little different. Rather than recommending resources you can use, it is going to focus on how you can raise the profile of your subject and hopefully increase the amount of students opting for the A level. I thought this would be particularly useful as now is the time to recruit students for the A level. If you do things that are not included here, please do let me know.

Tip one: Engage with colleagues in academia

The first recommendation I have is to engage with colleagues who work in Theology and Religious Studies in academia. There are different ways this can be undertaken and NATRE has a page dedicated to helping you with this (see the link below). I have contacted various academics in universities, including my local one, to see if they would come and give a talk on a subject connected to our A level and I have never been disappointed. For example, I have had speakers on Plato, Aristotle, sexual ethics, the role of religion in America as well as natural moral law and religious language. I have also asked them to talk about the various degrees in our subject area as I know that this can help sixth formers make the correct choice. Having guest speakers and writing about this in the school newsletter is a good way of showcasing your subject to parents, SLT and others. The link to the page on the NATRE website is: University Connections: Path to RE Teaching Success (natre.org.uk)

Tip two: Provide opportunities for extension

One way in which I offer opportunities for extension is by lending books connected to the A level from a library that I have been putting together for the last few years. To help pupils see how the book links, I always write a short summary of the work, giving some questions to ponder and thoughts on how it links to the topics we are discussing. The books that I recommend include: Brave New World for Utilitarianism; The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat and Still Alice for the mind body problem; The Universe versus Alex Wood for Euthanasia; The Science of Fate for whether we are free; The Philosophy Files and Socrates in the city for general philosophical ideas; Theo’s Odyssey and the Sources for religion; and Knowledge of Angels for the arguments for God’s existence. In addition to books I also recommend podcasts and consider what trips we can offer that will extend the course. One of my favourites is visiting Cadbury World in order to listen to their talk on ethics as this links to the Business Ethics unit we study.

Tip three: Sell your subject

There are many ways that I sell my subject. Firstly, I pick out questions and topic areas that I know the students are interested in exploring or which I know link to degrees they may wish to pursue. For example, whether God is she or whether AI have minds or should doctors only ever try to save lives? These link to units on feminism, to what is a mind and euthanasia. Throughout my teaching I try to bring in as many modern examples as possible that link to the topics we are exploring as I find this keeps students really interested. Thus, in the last week when discussing Plato, we looked at whether conspiracy theories would count as ignorance or things which had no being and how this might fit with the cave analogy. This has formed part of an assembly on my subject where we have discussed how education in general and RS in particular can help liberate the mind. Secondly, I am very clear on what the transferable skills are in the subject and how these are beneficial in all types of careers and degrees. This includes reference to the ability to write and sustain an argument. Thirdly, I try to always invite back previous students who will discuss how the subject has helped them in what they are currently doing. This is one of the most significant ways in which I sell my subject to students in particular as nothing beats, in my view, the voice of previous pupils. If you do not have your own students the videos put together by TRSUK are really helpful here. The link is: Graduate videos – Theology and Religious Studies UK (trs.ac.uk)

Tip four: Look for competitions

The most obvious competitions are the various essay ones which quite a few universities offer. However, some institutions are now creating different competitions that do not require writing an essay but instead it may require pupils to create a podcast or video recording, for example. Remember to write about these in your school newsletter especially if any of your students win. Another good opportunity is to run philosophical dialogue style competitions. These include the Philosothon and the Ethics Cup. Both of these are suitable for A level (as well as other students in the school) and entail pupils sitting together in a community of enquiry discussing questions that arise from philosophical and theological stimulus material. Running these are excellent ways to get pupils interested in the subject and I have even taken A level students to other school to help them create more confident teams to enter the competition. The link to the Philosothon is: Philosothon UK – Academy Conferences invite you to participate and to the Ethics cup is: The Ethics Cup – University of St Andrews Centre for Ethics, Philosophy and Public Affairs (st-andrews.ac.uk)

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