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Schools Blog

RE in Schools

Statistics recently released show that there has been a massive increase in the number of students taking RE at both GCSE and A-level. In fact, RE is the fastest growing subject on the curriculum. Why is that? Most educational commentators have pointed to the events of September 11th and the subsequent war on terror. They argue that the events of that day came as an immense shock to lots of young people because they seemed to arise out of a world view that was both profoundly religious and profoundly political. This was a world view of which the present generation had no experience. Commentators argue that young people crave understanding and so have turned to RE as a means of developing an understanding of why the world is the way it is now.

An alternative view is that young people are beginning to be more open in their exploration of the spiritual and that they see RE as one tool that will help them in this quest. It is not that young people are suddenly discovering they have a spiritual side, rather that they are allowing it to be more visible.

Whatever the reason, RE is emerging from a period in which it was seen as a subject doomed for extinction and becoming a subject seen by Government as part of a package that can help in the development of a spiritual, moral and social conscience. The other subjects in this package include Citizenship and PSHE. All three topics present youth and schools workers with clear opportunities to become involved in the life of a school and its students. This becomes even clearer when considering some of the suggested reforms to education currently being debated.

The content of the RE curriculum is now under discussion. One of the interesting suggestions is that student don’t just learn about religion but learn from religion. The suggestion is that there is something in the subject that can have an impact upon lifestyle. Furthermore students are to be encouraged to discover truth in the subject, a concept that has not generally been suggested before.

Education for 14 – 19s is also being reconsidered. Preliminary reports have emphasised the need to allow students to explore wider areas than just the plain academic. One concept being explored is the development of global learners i.e. young people who are aware of the interconnectedness of their lives with the lives of others around the world. Alongside this vision is a desire to create global citizens who contribute to solving the problems, not just of their own community, but of those communities around the world suffering from the effects of poverty etc.

Tearfund is therefore ideally placed to have an input at all kinds of levels in supporting the achievement of these goals.

With all this in mind Tearfund has begun to explore ways in which they can equip youth leaders to become involved in schools. One thing they have done is to produce a Lift the Label cd rom. This resource has been designed in such a way as to provide material suitable for key stages 3 and 4 which can be used in Citizenship, RE and Geography lessons. The cd comprises four outline lesson plans, worksheets, case studies and lots of challenging video material. The lesson plans have been created to allow for flexible use in the classroom giving space for role play, debate, small group work and presentation. The material has been given a dry run in schools where Youth for Christ workers are involved and they have proven to be very successful.

This CD is just one of many new resources that are being produced to make it possible for youth workers to gain access to schools.

It is recognised however that not everyone wants to get up in front of a class of 16 year olds to talk about the issues of poverty and justice. For some the whole concept is rather daunting. Thankfully classrooms are not the only places where the government wants its students to learn. Students are going to be actively encouraged to become more involved in their community. School will no longer be bound by four walls. Learning will happen all over the place. Some of Tearfund’s campaigns for example offer the chance to find out more about the clothing industry, fair trade and ethical shopping. There is no reason why something like ‘don’t shop quietly’ can’t be turned into a local project adopted by a school over the course of a term. Assemblies could launch the campaign and students be encouraged to team up with local youth leaders to bring the campaign onto their high street. Often in schools the 6th formers lead a charity committee or host specialist groups linked to charities such as Amnesty International. Invitations could be given to these to work alongside local tear fund volunteers to manage a campaign or fund raising programme.

We are living at a time when the issue of poverty is being recognised as a prime factor in the unfolding politics of our troubled world. Poverty and development do have causal links with suffering, war and terrorism. To understand our world we need to understand its inherent injustices. To deal with the world’s problems we have to deal with their causes. This message is one which the present government wants young people to learn at school. It is a message they hope will broaden understanding and transform attitudes to the extent that a new generation will view the world in a completely new way. That is a very laudable ambition and one which we, as youth workers should be doing all we can to support.

Submitted by Nigel Roberts at 12:34pm, 21st September 2004