Stories to support curriculum planning

Religious Education

Table of Contents


As with the other national curriculum subjects there are four strands to support high quality subject knowledge:

  1. National curriculum importance statements
  2. Authentic sources
  3. Subject associations
  4. Twitter communities

For the avoidance of doubt, religious education is not religious instruction.1 While there are some who do still equate religious education with religious instruction, this is a legacy of the subject’s complex history since RE emerged from the instructional, confessional tradition. The resulting confusion in the aims of RE is explained by Dr Richard Kueh in ‘We need to talk about religious education’.

It is helpful for subject leaders and coordinators to discuss and agree with colleagues, the reason why their subject, in this case religious education, is important for the pupils in their school. One way of doing this, is to draw on a quote, in this case from a pupil, ‘RE is like an iceberg. As you unpack ideas, you come to understand deeper meaning’. This kind of prompt allows us to formulate our way of stating the importance of the subject. We might agree or disagree with such a statement and in doing so come to a form of words which expresses (1) A legacy of the 1944 Education Act where it was defined as religious instruction means that parents are entitled to withdraw their children from RE lessons. our view of the importance of this subject, in this school. This moves us away from the territory of ‘we teach this subject because of the SATS or GCSEs’. While the external tests and exams are important, they are not the totality of the subject.

The ‘material’ of religious education stands separate as an object for study, critique and as such the personal beliefs of the teacher and pupils are irrelevant. It is every pupil’s entitlement to have access to the key concepts underpinning religions and beliefs, whether they are of that tradition, or not. All state schools must teach religious education to pupils at every key stage. Local councils are responsible for deciding the RE syllabus, but faith schools and academies can set their own.

Religious education is important because like every other subject, it provides a particular set of materials through which pupils come to understand important things about the world, and themselves. It is the study of religion and beliefs and it stands in the curriculum as a set of ideas and practices which have shaped and continue to shape our world. The business of religious education is an exploration of the influence of religions and beliefs on individuals, culture, behaviour and national life.

As in any other curriculum areas there are concepts and ideas underpinning the subject. The word religion has its roots in the Latin ‘to bind’, and it is the sacred texts, practices, literature, stories, art and practices that bind communities within a tradition together. The subject includes theology namely the discussion of the divine, philosophy and the human or social sciences (Georgiou and Wright 2018) and it is through working with these lenses, the subject secures its rigour.

The characteristics of good quality provision are when teachers keep as close as possible to the fundamental ‘stuff’ of the subject. In RE, these include the following:

  • The Bible and sacred texts – these should be the beating heart of religious education. Texts have a primacy in that they have stood the test of time over centuries, contain the accumulated wisdom of traditions and have a life beyond any individual. They usually point to the ultimate, whether God in Christian tradition, Yahweh in Judaism, Allah in Islam. The texts can provide the lens through which to engage with the theological. Theology understood here as – conversations about foundation beliefs within religions, that a study of religions and beliefs will include some approach to the concept of ‘God’ or ‘ultimate reality’ Georgiou and Wright ‘Theology involves investigating key texts and traditions within different religions and belief systems, exploring the ways they have become authoritative for believers and the ways they have been challenged, interpreted and disregarded over time’ (op cit)
  • Stories from faith traditions – the hadith in Islam, the lives of the saints in the Christian tradition, the wisdom of the Midrash in Judaism, the Ramayana are all fertile sources providing insights into religious beliefs.
  • Artefacts as ways of understanding belief and practice. Material based on strong ‘socio-historical’ grounds – namely that which has emerged from the past, stands up to the critique of time and resonates with society today. It is both static and malleable in that it can be interpreted through the lens of different individuals and their communities.
  • Visits and visitors providing the unique insights of lived religion and belief
  • Art and sacred music as ways of understanding and expressing religion

It is important that teachers appreciate the difference between the external aspects of religions and the lived experiences of individuals. Furthermore, they need to know that traditions differ and scholars often take opposing views. REonline provides useful summaries of these supplemented by wider scholarship and research.

Professional Communities

Subject associations are important because at the heart of their work is curriculum thinking, development and resources. The subject association for religious education is the National Association of Teachers of RE. It should be the case that any member of staff with responsibility for a subject should be a member of the relevant subject association, and this should be paid for by the school.

Twitter subject communities are important for the development of subject knowledge, because it is here that there are lively debates about what to teach, how to teach and the kinds of resources that are helpful. For religious education, it is worth following NATRE on Twitter and the hashtags #rechatuk #TeamRE #REteacher

1 A legacy of the 1944 Education Act where it was defined as religious instruction means that parents are entitled to withdraw their children from RE lessons.


Religious Education films

Check our library of films related to the subject

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