The complete dissertation is contained in this single web page. You can scroll through it or use the following links to go straight to the various chapters.


Chapter 1
The context

Chapter 2
New syllabuses for old?

Chapter 3
Towards a first draft

Chapter 4
Working on the draft

Chapter 5
The final stages

Chapter 6
The new syllabus: an analysis


Rewriting Oxfordshire's Agreed Syllabus Post 1988: the process and the issues
Derek Gillard
June 1992

submitted in part fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of MA in Religious Education at the University of London Institute of Education

copyright Derek Gillard 1992
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Gillard D (1992) Rewriting Oxfordshire's Agreed Syllabus Post 1988: the process and the issues www.education-uk.org/articles/dissertation.html

In references in the text, the number after the colon is always the page number (even where a document has numbered paragraphs or sections).


I should like to record my thanks to

  • Jo Cairns and Michael Totterdell of the Institute of Education
  • Isobel Vale, Religious Education Advisor for Oxfordshire
  • the members of the Oxfordshire Statutory Conference and my colleagues on the Syllabus Working Party
  • Dr Jim Robinson, Head of Religious Education at Wallingford School
all of whom gave freely of their time to provide me with invaluable help and encouragement.


The purpose of this dissertation is to examine the processes and issues involved in writing an Agreed Syllabus for Religious Education, and in particular to assess the effects of the religious education clauses of the 1988 Education "Reform" Act, taking as a case study the re-writing of Oxfordshire's Agreed Syllabus between 1990 and 1992.

The ingredients in this process are all considered: the historical background, the legal requirements, the process itself and the participants - the religious education advisor, the members of the four groups on the Statutory Conference and the (largely teacher dominated) working parties - and their respective motives.

The paper begins with a survey of the history of religious education and agreed syllabuses. The 1944 Act and changes in society and education during the 1960s and 70s are presented as a backdrop to the 1981 Oxfordshire Syllabus (i.e. Hampshire's of 1978). A summary of the religious education provisions of the 1988 Act is included in Chapter 2.

Chapter 3 gives a brief account of the composition of Oxfordshire's SACRE and the Statutory Conference. The reasons for the decision to review - and subsequently to replace - the current syllabus are presented and evaluated.

Chapters 4 and 5 present an account of the deliberations of the Statutory Conference and the working parties. Whilst I was a member of the working parties, I have tried to describe the process as objectively as possible.

In Chapter 6 I have attempted to analyse the new syllabus in the context of contemporary theories of curriculum design and religious education and in relation to various other educational issues. The agenda here is my own: some of the issues were not discussed by the working parties whose principal concern, I suggest, was to write a syllabus which complied with the law.

Chapter 1 The context

In 1981 Tim Brighouse, then Chief Education Officer for Oxfordshire, wrote in the preface to the county's Agreed Syllabus: 'Religious Education involves a personal quest for meaning and a search for values through encounters with Christianity and other living faiths' (Oxfordshire Agreed Syllabus 1981).

The syllabus itself was in fact a reprint of the 1978 Hampshire syllabus, a syllabus used by a number of local education authorities as well as Oxfordshire.

Oxfordshire was by no means the only authority considering a revision of its agreed syllabus at this time: many other authorities were making similar decisions. Why was this large-scale revision of syllabuses taking place? What had happened in the period since the 1944 Act which had persuaded local authorities that it was time for a change? To be in a position to suggest answers to these questions we need to examine briefly the provisions of the 1944 Act (some of which are still in operation today) and the history of religious education in the intervening period.

The religious provisions of the 1944 Education Act

In the years leading up to the second world war the rivalry between the churches in relation to what should be taught in religious education lessons in schools had declined and their willingness to co-operate with the local authorities had increased, so that some 'thorough and relatively enlightened syllabuses were circulating among the various areas' (Hull 1984:74). Edwin Cox and Jo Cairns have suggested that, in this pre-1944 period, 'the aim of religious education can be broadly defined ... as to enable the young person to find meaning in experience as a result of embracing the values of Christianity' (Cox and Cairns 1989:9). And in their view the White Paper which preceded the 1944 Education Act, Educational Reconstruction, 'called upon the schools and religious education in particular "to revive the personal and spiritual values of the nation"' (Cox and Cairns 1989:10).

The 1944 Education Act gave statutory backing to many of these developments. The main provisions of its religious education clauses were that:

  • the day should begin with an act of collective worship;
  • all pupils should be given regular religious instruction which (except in aided or special agreement schools) would be according to an Agreed Syllabus;
  • every Local Authority was required to make such a syllabus or use that of another authority; a syllabus was to be made by an Agreed Syllabus Conference consisting of four panels representing the Church of England, other Christian denominations, the local authority and teachers' organisations. Nothing could be included in the syllabus to which any one of these groups objected;
  • parents were given the right to withdraw their children from the act of worship and from religious instruction, and, under certain circumstances, they could ask for alternative provision;
  • teachers were also given the right to withdraw from the act of worship and from teaching religion; local authorities were given the power to set up Standing Advisory Councils for Religious Education (SACREs), though they did not have to do so.
Perhaps most interestingly, the Act itself never mentioned Christianity as the religion to be taught, as Edwin Cox has pointed out: 'perhaps the most peculiar aspect of the 1944 Act is that, while stipulating religious education ... it does not state which religion or religions are to be taught' (Cox and Cairns 1989:3).

However, he goes on to suggest that this was taken for granted: 'it was tacitly assumed that Christianity was the only faith that pupils were likely to encounter, the only faith about which they, therefore, need be educated' (Cox and Cairns 1989:3). Elsewhere he suggests that 'all the syllabuses are based on a study of the Christian scriptures and the history of the Christian church and this is beyond doubt what the legislators intended' (Cox 1966:16).

The aims of religious education at the time might well be summed up in those of the 1963 Surrey Syllabus which stated that children should 'gain knowledge of the common Christian faith held by their fathers for nearly 2000 years; seek for themselves in Christianity principles which give a purpose to life and a guide to all its problems; and find inspiration, power and courage to work for their own welfare, for that of their fellow-creatures, and for the growth of God's kingdom' (Surrey 1963:8).

Teachers (and others) were not to subscribe to such aims for long. As Ninian Smart has written, 'propaganda is not the aim of teaching, but the production of a ripe capacity to judge the truth of what is propagated. In brief, the role of the teacher is not that of taking advantage of the young' (Smart 1966:97).

Changes in the sixties in education and society

In education, the period from 1960 to the mid-seventies saw intense interest in developmental psychology (Piaget, Bruner etc); the publication of Readiness for Religion (Goldman 1965) and the Plowden Report (1967), both of which were grounded in the work of, especially, Piaget; the abolition of the eleven-plus exam and the introduction of comprehensive schools. Education began to change (albeit slowly) from being the 'authoritarian imparting of facts which the teacher knew and the pupils respectfully accepted' (Cox 1983:17) towards an 'inductive' or child-centred approach. This change was strongly promoted by the Plowden Report which recommended that 'There is an urgent need for a reconsideration and reappraisal of what aspects of religious faith can be appropriately presented to children, at what time and in what way' (Plowden 1967:207-8).

In society, it was a period of rising prosperity and increasing immigration but decreasing interest in religion - or at least in organised religion. Society was thus becoming more secular and pluralist. These factors led Birmingham, for example, to revise its syllabus in the early 1970s, to include work on a variety of faiths, taking into account the 'considerable numbers of Sikh, Muslim and Hindu children (who) were attending Birmingham schools' (Hull 1984:82).

And religion itself was coming to terms with what many described as 'the new theology', which, perhaps surprisingly, became 'the subject of popular interest' (Cox 1983:18) with the publication of John Robinson's Honest to God in 1963.

All these factors persuaded local authorities that their syllabuses needed revision. And, in any case, it was natural that, fifteen years or so after the 1944 Act, 'interested parties should begin to enquire how far it (the statutory framework set up by the 1944 Act) was succeeding' (Cox 1983:13). Several research projects appeared to indicate that 'there had been no obvious increase in national godliness ... churchgoing had further declined and juvenile delinquency had increased. Nor had the subject aroused noteworthy enthusiasm in the majority of pupils' (Cox 1983:13).

But perhaps the main reason for the revisions was the increasing concern that the existing syllabuses were simply not appropriate for pupils whose intellectual and linguistic abilities and limitations were now being intensively researched. Goldman summed up the conclusions of many writers and researchers in six points: the complexity of religious concepts as compared with the limited intellectual development of the young; poor attainments in terms of Bible knowledge; an increasing sense of the unreality and irrelevance of religious teaching; the importance of motivation and attitudes; the incremental nature of religious growth and learning; and a unanimous conclusion that the current syllabuses and methods were quite unsuitable (Goldman 1965:193-4).

The beginnings of change can be seen in the syllabus published by Cornwall in 1964. It suggested that 'most teachers in this country shrink from the idea that they should assist in propaganda and indoctrination.' Furthermore, 'this is a subject which ... involves the most private and intimate of the pupil's reactions and experiences.' And again, 'another way of avoiding commitment or undue pressure is to give all religions a fair hearing' (Cornwall 1964:2). It is difficult to overstate the change these views represented as against the old confessional, purely Christian, syllabuses. Here can be seen the beginnings of the phenomenological approach to religious education, but also the beginnings of attempts to help pupils in their own quest for beliefs, values and meaning in life.

The sixties, then, saw intense activity in terms of research into children's intellectual and spiritual development, and important changes in society and its attitudes and values, all of which began to be reflected in the aims and principles underlying the agreed syllabuses. Significant changes in the content of the syllabuses would have to wait still longer, however.

Phenomenology, mentioned in passing above, was to become the watchword for the seventies. Confessional teaching and indoctrination were out (at least in theory). John Marvell has described phenomenology as being 'concerned with a 'propositionless' approach to that which is essential and unique to the essence and manifestation of religion. Thus, unlike the empirical approach it does not avoid the central issues, nor ask, as does the theological approach, that certain a priori assumptions be made which are not universally acceptable' (Marvell 1982: 71).

The processes which had resulted in changes (research into children's learning, societal changes etc) continued apace during the seventies and early eighties, and much debate ensued about the role of religious education. Edwin Cox (1983) discussed the problems of dealing with sacred literature, of religious language, of the relationship between religious and moral education.

But perhaps more importantly, Britain was perceived, at least by those actively involved in the debate, as no longer a Christian society. The 'post-Christian era' was talked about, and Edwin Cox, among others, discussed secularism and religious pluralism. 'What is the existing situation? It is that in Britain ... we have a multiplicity of religious and of non-religious faiths. Some are Christians in the old church-going style. Others have a kind of residual Christianity or folk faith ... There are those who think all religious beliefs are non-scientific and superstitious ... these are the Humanists, the scientific determinists, the Communists and the like.' To this list he adds the agnostics and then 'those immigrant faiths that have come among us, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Baha'i, and others, and those fringe cults that attract the young for a while' (Cox 1983:117).

In this educational and societal context the new agreed syllabuses no longer required teachers to turn their pupils into practising Christians - or practising anything else, for that matter - pupils would now study religions as things other people believed in and did.

The Hampshire Syllabus of 1978

The phenomenological approach was quickly reflected in the aims of new syllabuses, and it is in this context and against this historical background that we can now examine Hampshire's new syllabus of 1978. It is, in my view, a remarkable document which still sounds fresh and relevant today and displays a philosophy of religious education with which, I suggest, few would argue.

It begins with a statement of Aims and Approach. It states that 'the principal aim of religious education in schools is to enable pupils to understand the nature of religious beliefs and practices, and the importance and influence of these in the lives of believers.' This aim is, in isolation, a concise statement of the phenomenological approach, but there is more to come.

The syllabus argues that Christianity should be the main subject matter since Christianity is the religious faith 'which has most influenced our culture.' However, it goes on to say, importantly in the context of earlier syllabuses, that 'it is no part of the responsibility of a county school to promote any particular religious standpoint.' Furthermore, Christian content alone would not be adequate. 'A syllabus relevant to the needs of our children must also provide an introduction to other religious commitments and world-views found in contemporary British society.' There are clear echoes here of the Birmingham Syllabus of 1975.

The Hampshire syllabus goes on to suggest that 'religious education is concerned with making pupils aware of experiences and concepts basic to all religion.' However, this in itself is not enough; neither is it enough simply to investigate 'the visible features of particular religious and non-religious belief systems.' Rather, religious education must go deeper than this, 'evoking sympathetic appreciation of the meanings and values enshrined within such systems; and, with older pupils, critically examining them.' I suggest that the syllabus here goes beyond phenomenology: a strictly phenomenological approach would be concerned with looking at the phenomena of religious belief and practice and no more. The phrase 'critically examining them' introduces an element of evaluation - something syllabus writers are still struggling with today, as we shall see later.

The inclusion of this aspect of religious education is important because 'pupils will thus be helped to discover some of the ways in which human beings have approached and answered questions of the meaning and purpose of existence, and some of the ways in which these approaches and answers have shaped social life and attitudes.' And this leads on to the next suggestion of the syllabus, that a religious education which is not trying to indoctrinate or persuade should help pupils in their own personal search for 'meaning, purpose and values.'

The inclusion of the word 'values' opens up another huge dimension of religious education. Certainly the earlier syllabus writers had been concerned with values: Christian values with which teachers were supposed to indoctrinate the young. How Christian some of these values actually were could be the subject of a long debate: I suspect many of the values which successive governments would have liked the young to espouse have had more to do with maintaining the status quo in society rather than anything Jesus said. The Hampshire syllabus, however, avoids such interpretations. It does talk about 'the less immediately obvious values in the civilisation to which they are heirs' but it goes on to talk about children being 'better able to play a responsible part in the generation of their own culture.' These carefully chosen words seem to me to observe just the right balance between turning children into what the present society wants (skilled workers etc - the utilitarian approach) and seeking to offer children the skills and competencies to change society - to make it their own.

The syllabus goes on to discuss the experiential dimension of religion, arguing that if pupils meet and engage in dialogue with believers, and encounter their practices and customs, art, music and literature, they will become aware of 'the reality, strength and consequences of religious convictions.' Here again the syllabus goes a step further than the purely phenomenological: rather than simply examining the phenomena of religions in isolation, pupils are invited to consider the consequences of these phenomena. And today there are plenty of consequences to consider, from personal racial and cultural intolerance to international issues like the Gulf War and the middle east peace talks.

The syllabus suggests that tolerance and empathy should be fostered by 'an attitude of fairminded enquiry towards the whole range of religious and non-religious convictions.' It is interesting to note the inclusion of 'non-religious' convictions: a few years earlier the Birmingham syllabus had provoked a storm of argument over its suggestion that pupils might undertake studies in Marxism/Communism. The Hampshire syllabus does not name particular world-views but the possibility is certainly there.

Religious education, the syllabus suggests, should 'encourage a willingness to stand imaginatively in other people's shoes.' Pupils' own views should be weighed against the traditions being studied 'before they subject those traditions to criticism.' Empathy was thus an attitude which teachers were encouraged to develop in their pupils.

Finally, the syllabus adds some comments on context and progression, noting that religious education shares common ground with other subjects 'in contributing to the personal, moral and social development of pupils.' Again, a brief statement hints at huge areas of debate: on the one hand, the link between religious and moral education; and on the other, whether the aims of religious education can be adequately met through a programme of personal and social education. Once again, in my view the syllabus assesses the situation accurately in its suggestion that religious education 'contributes' to these areas: they are not synonymous.

The remainder of the syllabus consists of 'General Objectives' and some illustrative material showing how the aims could be translated into content for the classroom.

To sum up, then, the Hampshire syllabus of 1978 states concisely the aims and objectives of religious education and outlines briefly suitable content for achieving those aims. Its aims are, in my view, sound, and its suggestions as to subject matter, though no more than a skeletal outline, appropriate in relation to the aims.

Hampshire decided that the syllabus was not detailed enough for teachers' everyday use: it was a syllabus rather than a curriculum document. They therefore published Paths to Understanding in 1980. This was intended to be of much greater practical help to teachers in planning their classroom work. A second volume, Following the Paths, was published in 1986.

A critique of the Hampshire syllabus follows in the next chapter.

In 1980, Oxfordshire's Statutory Conference was convened to consider a new agreed syllabus for the County. Committee A of the Conference consisted of five Free Church representatives, a Roman Catholic, a Unitarian and one representative of the non-Christian religions; Committee B consisted of five representatives of the Church of England; Committee C consisted of eight teachers, and Committee D six representatives of the local education authority.

The four committees unanimously agreed to adopt the Hampshire syllabus and in 1981 this became the Oxfordshire agreed syllabus. The syllabus and the two accompanying handbooks have been widely available to teachers in the county since their publication.

The 1988 Education Reform Act

Why, then, just eight years after the adoption of the Hampshire syllabus, did Oxfordshire decide to review its syllabus yet again? Undoubtedly the single most significant reason was the 1988 Education Reform Act, and in particular the introduction of the National Curriculum and the requirements for religious education.

The first point worth noting in the 1988 Act is that 'the special place of religious education in the curriculum is preserved in the new arrangements. It is not a foundation subject, and so is not at risk of being taken out of the compulsory curriculum as those subjects are (at least in principle); nor does it, for the same reason, come within the provisions for assessment' (Leonard 1988:17). This situation is seen by many as a two-edged sword. On the one hand, religious education is a compulsory subject and so is, in a sense, protected. On the other, since it is not covered by the requirements for programmes of study, attainment targets and all the other paraphernalia of the National Curriculum, there is a danger of its being marginalised. Secondary school teachers, especially, fear a diminution of its status and particularly a reduction in the time allowed for it under pressure of the core and foundation subjects.

It is partly for this reason that some wish religious education syllabuses to reflect the structure of other National Curriculum subjects and on this basis Westhill College produced its booklet Attainment in RE, which contained profile components, attainment targets and statements, and examples of programmes of study. Similar projects included FARE (Forms of Assessment in RE - Exeter) and Suffolk's RE in the Basic Curriculum.

The second point is that, whereas the 1944 Act never mentioned Christianity - though, as we have seen, it was undoubtedly intended to be the religion to be studied - the 1988 Act makes clear that 'the teaching is to reflect the mainly Christian nature of British religious traditions' (Cox and Cairns 1989:46). The Act begs many questions, but this much seems clear: the main area of study is to be Christianity - as indeed it has been in virtually all the agreed syllabuses published since 1944 - though the study of other faiths is to be included, too.

The 1988 Act introduced new requirements for religious education and collective worship in maintained schools and amended or re-enacted requirements of the 1944 Act. Department of Education and Science Circular 3/89 (published in January 1989) set out the provisions of the Act and their implications for schools. Most immediately, local education authorities were to set up a Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE) if they had not already done so. (The 1944 Act had allowed local authorities to do so; the 1988 Act made this a requirement).

The legal position after the 1988 Act, then, is that:

  • There must be provision for religious education for all pupils. This is unchanged from the 1944 Act, except that, interestingly, it now applies to sixth-forms and sixth-form colleges (though not to other colleges).
  • Religious education in county schools must be nondenominational and must be in accordance with a locally agreed syllabus prepared by a Conference set up under Schedule 5 of the 1944 Act: again, this is unchanged from the 1944 Act.
  • The parental right of withdrawal, and the safeguards for teachers who do not wish to participate in or conduct religious education both remain the same.
A fundamental change required by the 1988 Act was that new locally agreed syllabuses 'shall reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian whilst taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain' (1988 Act Section 8(3)). It would be difficult to underestimate the importance of this change. As noted earlier, the 1944 Act had never referred to Christianity, because it was assumed at the time that this was what religious education was about. The syllabuses of the intervening years had, however, to a greater or lesser extent acknowledged the multi-faith nature of British society, and some of the more recent syllabuses had given hardly any advice on which religions were to form the basis of work in the subject. It was presumably in an attempt to clarify the position (and no doubt also to deal with a number of authorities whose syllabuses were thought to be so vague as to be useless) that this clause was added to the Act. It caused widespread alarm in the education world at first, and was probably the single most important factor in the decision of many local authorities to revise their syllabuses. There has been much discussion of what 'in the main' means and how this should be reflected in a syllabus. There has also been much concern over the appropriateness of such a requirement in, for example, schools in Southall and other areas where the population is almost exclusively Muslim or Hindu.

The Act makes much of the special status of religious education, which must be 'included in the basic curriculum' (section 8(2)), though not as part of the National Curriculum. It seeks to promote equal standing for religious education in relation to the core and foundation subjects, but is not to be subject to nationally prescribed attainment targets, programmes of study, and assessment arrangements. The argument made for this arrangement is that religious education syllabuses need to reflect local circumstances and it would therefore be inappropriate to apply a national syllabus.

The Act does, however, suggest that a Statutory Conference 'may recommend the inclusion of attainment targets, programmes of study and assessment arrangements in locally determined form in their proposals.' (DES Circular 3/89) Some authorities have already adopted this approach of giving religious education a format similar to that of the other National Curriculum subjects, though this raises problems in relation to procedures for assessment, recording and reporting: an issue I shall return to later.

Whilst religious education in county schools must be nondenominational, the new law makes it clear that teaching about denominational differences is permitted: again, there is nothing particularly new here.

Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education (SACREs) must be established, according to a specified composition, and with extended general functions. There are several differences here from the requirements of the 1944 Act. First, the establishment of a SACRE is now mandatory. Second, the duties and responsibilities of a SACRE are broader than before: in essence it is to 'advise the authority upon such matters connected with religious worship in county schools and the religious education to be given in accordance with an agreed syllabus as the authority may refer to the council or as the council may see fit' (DES Circular 3/89).

A SACRE is to comprise four groups representing, respectively, Christian denominations and other religions 'as, in the opinion of the authority, will appropriately reflect the principal religious traditions in the area' (1988 Act Section 11(4)); the Church of England; teachers' associations; and the local education authority. There is little change here from 1944 except that the first of these groups can be expected to contain more non-Christian members than hitherto, reflecting the multi-faith nature of most areas of Britain today. (It is interesting to note that the Statutory Conference set up by Oxfordshire to review its syllabus in 1980 had just one member representing all non-Christian faiths, despite the not inconsiderable Muslim and, especially, Hindu populations of Oxford).

A SACRE has two particular duties: it can require its local education authority to review its current agreed syllabus and it may determine, where a head teacher so requests, that the requirement for collective worship in a county school to be 'wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character' shall not apply to the collective worship provided for some or all of the pupils in that particular school. It is worth noting that this applies only to collective worship, not to the syllabus. In an all-Muslim county school, for example, there is no possibility in the Act of opting out of a syllabus which reflects the 'mainly Christian' traditions in this country.

Where a SACRE decides that an agreed syllabus should be reviewed, it may require the local education authority to set up a Statutory Conference for this purpose. Circular 3/89 makes it clear that the then Secretary of State expected local education authorities to work with their SACREs to 'review the existing provision for religious education in their schools on the basis of the current agreed syllabuses, and to consider with them whether any changes need to be made in those syllabuses and in the support offered for religious education teaching in their schools.' Clearly the Secretary of State was not happy with the style of many of the existing agreed syllabuses and was anxious that the new Act would result in wholesale rewriting of them along the lines now being promoted. Many local education authorities have complied, though not all have done so successfully. Ealing, for example, has produced a syllabus without, in the Secretary of State's view, sufficient specificity.

Local education authorities may decide for themselves what matters they refer to their SACREs and SACREs may - indeed, should - offer advice on 'particular methods of teaching, the choice of teaching materials and the provision of teacher training.' Neither is the SACRE confined to advising on matters referred to it by the local education authority: it may offer advice 'on any matters related to its functions as it sees fit.' However, the advice offered by SACREs has no statutory force, though local education authorities are advised always to give 'careful consideration' to such advice.

Finally, a SACRE may be involved in the local authority's statutory complaints machinery, and must publish an annual report of its work.

The procedures for preparing and bringing into operation an agreed syllabus, or for reconsidering an existing syllabus, were set out in Schedule 5 to the 1944 Act. This has been amended by the 1988 Act (Section 11) and the provisions are now as follows:

As in 1944, decisions about a syllabus are to be made locally; responsibility for drawing up the syllabus rests with a Conference convened by the local education authority; the Conference is to consist of four committees representing the four interest groups represented on the SACRE: all four committees must agree to recommend a new syllabus before it can be introduced. Unlike the SACRE, however, the Statutory Conference cannot co-opt members. Members of SACRE can also be members of the Conference but the local education authority is also free to appoint extra or different members to represent the various interests.

An education authority may choose to adopt the syllabus of another authority (as Oxfordshire did in 1981) but can do so only on the recommendation of its own Conference. Any syllabus so adopted must be regarded as a new syllabus and must therefore meet the requirements of Section 8(3) of the 1988 Act.

(The 1988 Act also amended the provisions for collective worship, but that is beyond the scope of this paper).

The Act has produced a flurry of activity, with many local authorities now reviewing their syllabuses, partly to ensure that they comply with the 1988 Act (and associated advice from the Department of Education and Science) and partly in response to new views of what religious education ought to be about. This dissertation is an attempt to assess the balance between the effects of these two influences on the writing of one particular agreed syllabus.

New views of religious education

What are these new views? I have already noted that the aims of religious education have changed greatly since the early syllabuses. From the confessional and indoctrinational we moved to the phenomenological (though I doubt that a strictly phenomenological approach has ever been followed to the exclusion of others). And now the phenomenological approach itself is largely discredited, often described as a 'Cook's Tour' of religions with little relevance to pupils' needs, and philosophically unsound as it presumes that one can study religions objectively. As Michael Grimmitt has pointed out, 'no method of study can be without some propositions ... value-free methods are, in fact, value-laden' (Grimmitt 1987:42). And he quotes Newbigin to support this argument: 'If ... I try to study Hinduism and all the other religions from - so to speak - an equal distance, as this syllabus (Birmingham 1975) suggests, then I must also undertake the study of the ideology which underlies the Syllabus, and must answer the question: "What are the grounds for believing that this way of looking at Hinduism is true, as against the Hindu way of looking at Hinduism?"' (Newbigin 1977:100). Indeed, Grimmitt goes so far as to suggest that 'the use of phenomenological method effectively invalidates the educational process' (Grimmitt 1987:45).

Today, groups of religious education teachers are much more likely to be found discussing spirituality, beliefs, values and meaning in life, ultimate questions, and so on. In classrooms, debates as to what religion is and what it means to have religious beliefs about life are to be found alongside the historical and factual aspects of religions. The rehabilitation of evaluation in religious education (the seeds of which, as I have suggested, could be seen in the 1978 Hampshire syllabus) is now almost complete. Brenda Watson notes that recent agreed syllabuses have abandoned 'preoccupation with content in favour of concepts, skills and attitudes' (Watson 1987:173) and promotes the concept of 'critical affirmation' - 'to all people in principle, to oneself, and to truth so far as it is discerned' (Watson 1987:55). Radical empiricism itself, on which so much western thinking has been based and which has been taken so much for granted, is now called into question: 'Radical empiricism ... brings about an implicit identification of the real and worthwhile with the purely observable, and collapses into materialism ... it divorces the knower from what is known, and in positivism it explicitly relegates theology and ethics to the status of "non-sense"' (Thatcher 1990:79).

Many of these arguments have informed the debates which surround the creation of today's agreed syllabuses.

It was against this historical and educational/philosophical background, as well as the new legal framework, that Oxfordshire decided in 1990 to review its current syllabus. My thesis here is that the legal requirements have been allowed to exert a greater influence on the writing of the new syllabus than the educational/philosophical considerations.

Chapter 2 New syllabuses for old?

As noted in the previous chapter, under the provisions of the 1944 Education Act local education authorities were permitted but not required to set up Standing Advisory Councils for Religious Education (SACREs). Oxfordshire did not do so until the 1988 Education Reform Act made such a Council mandatory.

The Oxfordshire SACRE was established and its membership approved at a meeting of the Education Committee on 14 March 1989. Its membership was as shown in Table 1.

Nominations for membership were made in the following months and by June 1989 the SACRE was ready to perform its prescribed functions as described in Chapter 1.

Table 1: Membership of the Oxfordshire SACRE

1 Religions and Christian denominations
other than Anglican
    Free Churches4
    Roman Catholic2
2 Church of England4
3 Teachers' Associations3
4 Local Education Authority3

Table 2: Membership of the Statutory Conference

1 Religions and Christian denominations
other than Anglican
    United Reformed1
    Oxfordshire Council of Churches1
    Roman Catholic2
2 Church of England4
3 Teachers' Associations14
4 Local Education Authority3

The Statutory Conference

The Statutory Conference to review the Religious Education Syllabus for Oxfordshire was set up a year later, in June 1990. The membership of the Conference was as shown in Table 2.

The members appointed to the SACRE and the Statutory Conference were largely the same people, except that on the Conference there were additional members representing teachers. Each member was required to nominate a standing deputy and members and deputies were to hold office 'until an Agreed Syllabus has been recommended to the County Council.'

The Conference was charged with recommending unanimously either:

  • that the existing syllabus should be the agreed syllabus; or
  • that a new syllabus be adopted in substitution for the existing syllabus
If the Conference were unable to reach unanimous agreement, or if the Authority were to fail to adopt the recommended syllabus, the matter would be referred to the Secretary of State, in accordance with Schedule 5 of the 1944 Act.

Inaugural meeting of the Conference: July 1990

The Conference first met on 5 July 1990. The principal agenda item (after the business of electing a Chair and Vice-Chair and receiving apologies) was to review the agreed syllabus. 'It shall be the duty of the Conference to seek unanimous agreement upon a syllabus of religious education to be recommended for adoption by the Local Education Authority. This will form part of the basic curriculum for use in County Schools, in Controlled Schools unless otherwise requested by parents of any pupils, and for pupils in Aided and Special Agreement Schools where requested by their parents' (Notice of Meeting, 5 July 1990).

The first task of the Conference was to agree how the review would be conducted. Three possibilities were suggested for the initial stages:

  • the whole conference could review the entire syllabus;
  • the membership of the Conference could be divided into small sub-committees, each considering aspects of the syllabus relating to the key stages of the National Curriculum; or
  • within agreed guidelines, the Conference could ask the religious education advisor and teacher representatives to produce an initial review of the syllabus for consideration.
The Advisor for Religious Education, Isobel Vale, suggested that the most appropriate method for reviewing the syllabus would be for small working groups to be established to look at the key stages of the National Curriculum. Membership of these groups should include religious education specialist teachers and other members of the Conference who had an interest in the various key stages. She stressed the need for the agreed syllabus to reflect the requirements of the 1988 Act and for it to be comprehensive in its coverage of the different age ranges.

It would be useful to know what other local authorities were doing, especially Hampshire, from whom Oxfordshire had adopted its existing syllabus. She referred to several publications including those from Westhill and Exeter.

Some members felt that it was important that there should be an overview to ensure that the work of such groups was monitored and that there should be an initial report which considered the main issues that needed to be addressed before deciding the method to be adopted in undertaking the review of the syllabus.

It was noted that substantial work was required on the 3-7 and 16-18 age ranges.

Members also expressed the view that the local education authority would need to provide adequate resources in order for the review to be undertaken.

After further discussion, it was resolved that 'the religious education advisor produce an interim report, using whatever resources or expertise necessary, on the main issues to be addressed in the review of the agreed syllabus for consideration by the Conference at their next meeting' (Minutes of Meeting, 5 July 1990).

The Conference would then consider how the review would be undertaken.

The Working Groups: Autumn 1990

Initially it was intended that there should be five groups, covering each of the five Key Stages of the National Curriculum:

Key Stage 1: 5-7 years
Key Stage 2: 7-11 years
Key Stage 3: 11-14 years
Key Stage 4: 14-16 years
Key Stage 5: 16-19 years
However, it was quickly agreed that it would be better to have three groups, covering, respectively, Key Stages 1 and 2; Key Stages 3 and 4; and Key Stage 5. It was felt that this would make it easier for the groups to be aware of the need for continuity and progression.

Religious Education specialists were appointed to each group and other members of the Conference joined them.

The first task of the groups was to critique the existing agreed syllabus, so members were asked to prepare for the initial meeting by reading the syllabus and the Westhill document Attainment in RE, especially the section dealing with attainment targets.

The first meeting of the working groups was held on 18 October 1990 at the Jewish Centre in Jericho, Oxford. Opportunities were provided during the day for the groups to come together so that their deliberations were not too disparate.

During this first day the groups looked at the existing syllabus and agreed that there were four possibilities:

  • retain the existing agreed syllabus
  • adopt a new syllabus from another Authority
  • devise a new agreed syllabus
  • retain the present syllabus but add an appendix of attainment statements, programmes of study and assessment arrangements.
Of these possibilities, the first and fourth were rejected and the second and third regarded as viable options.

Why did the working groups come so quickly to the conclusion that the existing syllabus was no longer adequate? Seven main issues were raised:

Firstly, it was noted that the syllabus closely followed the thinking of Piaget and Goldman (as described in the previous chapter) and the supporting handbooks aimed to show how the objectives of the syllabus might be achieved. But the work of Piaget and Goldman, based as it was on developmental stage theories, was now being called into question. Would a syllabus based on these theories still command intellectual support?

Secondly, there was no reference to attainment or assessment in the syllabus, yet these were now key features of other National Curriculum subjects. Was it appropriate to discuss these aspects of the curriculum in relation to religious education? If so, clearly the existing syllabus would be inadequate.

Thirdly, the 1988 Act specified that religious teaching must be 'in the main Christian'. Would the Hampshire syllabus fulfil this requirement? Certainly, the syllabus had stated that the content of the teaching would be 'drawn largely from the study of Christianity in its many forms, this being the religious faith which has most influenced our culture'. Was this the same as 'in the main, Christian'? And, even if the syllabus included this statement in its section on 'Aims and Approach', was there enough specificity in its content to justify its being described as 'in the main Christian'? The working groups decided that there was not.

The 1988 Act also required that the other 'principal religious traditions' of this country should be studied. Again, the working groups decided that the existing syllabus was far from specific about how many and which faiths should be studied.

Fourthly, the Hampshire syllabus said nothing about religious education at sixth-form level: its provisions ceased at age sixteen, whereas the 1988 Act required religious education for all school pupils including those in the sixth-form. The handbook Following the Paths did contain some objectives for sixth-form work, but as the handbook only supported the syllabus, it was not a legal document.

Fifthly, the groups considered which skills, concepts and attitudes the syllabus was attempting to encourage or develop at each Key Stage. Again, it was felt that there was insufficient specificity here.

Sixthly, concerns were expressed about the accessibility of the document to teachers, governors, parents and faith communities.

Finally, the groups considered that there should be a recommended time allocation for religious education: it was agreed that this was another omission from the Hampshire syllabus.

The consensus was that the Hampshire syllabus was no longer adequate and it will be noted that this was largely because it was felt not to fulfil the new legal requirements.

The groups now had to decide what to put in its place: should Oxfordshire adopt a syllabus from another authority, or should it write its own? The working groups met again on 22 November 1990 to consider these options.

About forty local authorities were reviewing their agreed syllabuses at this time, and many of these were considering attainment targets, programmes of study and other structural forms from the National Curriculum either as part of a new syllabus or as an addendum to an existing syllabus. Of those authorities which had adopted the Hampshire syllabus, about equal numbers had decided to keep it or revise it. Hampshire itself had a working party reviewing its position. Many of the local authorities which had decided to revise their syllabuses were using the Westhill document Attainment in RE. As Oxfordshire had bought into this project, it was possible to adopt or adapt the scheme.

The Westhill booklet Attainment in RE was based on the principles:

  • that the structures for religious education should be, as far as possible, within the same broad educational guidelines as those for the core and foundation subjects of the National Curriculum;
  • that in religious education, priority should be given to defining attainment and that the processes and outcomes of the subject should not be determined by what can be precisely measured;
  • that the provisions for religious education should be built on the progressive educational foundations of recent agreed syllabuses and good practice in schools; and
  • that determining details of content (i.e. which religions should be studied) is a matter for local education authorities (Westhill 1989:3).
The scheme suggested ten attainment targets arranged in three groups ('profile components'):
A Knowledge and Understanding of Religion
A1 Worship and Meditation
A2 Celebration
A3 Lifestyle
A4 Authority
A5 Belief and Identity

B Awareness of Life-experiences
B6 Natural World
B7 Relationships
B8 Ultimate Questions
B9 Expressing Meaning

C Exploring and Responding
C10 Exploring and Responding

There were suggested programmes of study and attainment statements for each of these attainment targets at Key Stages 1-4: there was nothing for Key Stage 5.

The working groups were also anxious to see the forthcoming Westhill document Assessing, Recording and Reporting RE. Although publication of this second stage of the Westhill project was said to be imminent, it was to be more than a year before its eventual publication. In the meantime, the groups discussed whether the Westhill attainment targets formed the basis of a suitable approach.

Another project which the working groups looked at was the FARE project (Forms of Assessment in RE) based at Exeter. The interim report proposed attainment targets which 'are not targets to be reached by working up through ten precisely defined levels. They are a way of plotting the map of religious education and indicating the areas which should be addressed' (Exeter 1990:3). The Report proposed six attainment targets: Awareness of Mystery; Questions of Meaning; Value and Commitments; Religious Belief; Religious Practices; Religious Language.

Finally, the groups looked at a number of recently published agreed syllabuses, considering their format; content; approach; accessibility to teachers, governors and parents; and whether they included any recommendations regarding time allocation.

Statutory Conference: January 1991

The Statutory Conference met again on 17 January 1991. Its main business was to receive a report from the working groups based on their deliberations thus far. The report's main conclusions and recommendations were as follows:

1: A critique of the Oxfordshire Agreed Syllabus

A great deal of time had been spent discussing the requirements of the 1988 Act. It was felt that the Guidelines and Objectives of the agreed syllabus were rather general and could support the Act's requirements. However, closer analysis suggested that whilst the examples provided did not contradict the Act, they were not useful in illuminating the legal requirements. In fact, they could easily lead to misrepresentation. Since the agreed syllabus was not structured to match the key stages of the National Curriculum it was difficult to see from its present format just which religions should be taught at which particular age ranges. A list of the major traditions in Great Britain should be stated with the recommendation that more than two should be studied at all key stages. Such prescription would aid teachers with their planning and would enhance continuity and progression.

No mention of skills was found and concepts and attitudes tended to be rather simplistic. It was felt that these should be made clear in an agreed syllabus because it would help teachers to be clear in their own minds and to communicate to others what they were trying to do and it would ensure that religious education could command equal status with other subjects based on its valuable and particular educational contribution to the curriculum.

The current agreed syllabus was seen as being out of line with other curriculum documents and this was not helpful to teachers, many of whom were non-specialists. Furthermore, given the important links being built up with the various faith communities and the desire to share information, it was felt that a more user-friendly document was now essential.

2: Agreed Syllabuses from a variety of local authorities

The working groups had found it useful to examine a variety of syllabuses which had varied in their content, approach and format. The majority were generally felt to be userfriendly and therefore accessible to teachers, parents, governors and faith communities. Some syllabuses gave a recommended time allocation for religious education across all the key stages.

3: Documentation from national projects

The Westhill document Attainment in RE was highly praised by all members. Schools had already found it a most useful planning tool, especially supportive for non-specialists. Assessing, Recording and Reporting RE promised to be most exciting and members felt that the whole area of assessment must be kept on the agenda. Further discussion should take place once the document was published.

The FARE interim report was considered stimulating reading, but members were reluctant to wait until the final report was published in the summer of 1991. The Westhill document was generally felt to be more useful.

4: Key Stage 5

The Key Stage 5 working group felt that progression and continuity were important, so work in Key Stage 5 should build on the previous key stages. However, they also felt that core religious education in the sixth form must adopt a refreshingly new approach: it should be challenging, academic and enjoyable. The group recommended that core religious education could be delivered in a variety of ways - as part of a general studies programme; as a specific religious education module; in the form of day conferences, by cross-curricular seminars, or by distance learning.

Having examined a number of syllabuses, the working group felt they were now in a position to formulate some clear guidelines for sixth form religious education. This was seen as a matter of some urgency.

Finally, the working groups recommended a totally new agreed syllabus and offered a sample list of contents:

1 Foreword by Chief Education Officer

2 Introduction

how Oxfordshire sees religious education
the place of religious education within the curriculum
the legal framework
using the syllabus
justification of religious education and relation to multi-cultural education, racial harmony, special needs etc
3 Attainment Targets

4 Programmes of study

5 Recording Achievement

6 Supporting statements


8 Rights of withdrawal

9 Complaints

10 Glossary of terms.

The Statutory Conference considered the report and agreed that the present syllabus did not appear to meet the necessary legal requirements. A suggestion that subcommittees should be formed to take the work further was rejected when it was pointed out that each constituent committee which made up the membership of the Conference would have to be represented on each sub-committee. The religious education advisor, Isobel Vale, agreed to organise further meetings of the working groups 'to prepare documentation for a new agreed syllabus' to be brought before the Statutory Conference in July 1991.

It is worth making two points here.

The first relates to my part in the process: as a member of the overall working group, and of the Key Stage 3 working group in particular, I was, of course, involved in the discussions which led to the creation of the new syllabus. However, for the purposes of this paper I have endeavoured to describe the process as objectively as I can. For this reason I have used the third person most of the time, though I have used 'we' on occasions when it seemed appropriate.

The second - and more important - point is that the issues discussed in writing the new syllabus were to a large extent concerned with meeting the legal requirements. The religious education provisions of the 1988 Act thus dominated the debates of the Statutory Conference and, later, the deliberations of the working groups. This is not to say that educational considerations were ignored, but it is a clear indication that the agenda was being set by the legislation. I shall hope to demonstrate this in the following chapters, which review the process by which the working groups created the new syllabus.

Issues which I consider of fundamental importance for any valid educational enterprise - the nature of the curriculum; models of curriculum design; the importance of children's needs and interests; the involvement of teachers in curriculum development - were virtually ignored. One could argue that this was because what we were writing was a syllabus and not a curriculum and that, assuming a syllabus is merely a framework within which a curriculum can be developed, then these issues were not relevant in this undertaking.

I would argue, however, that without a sound educational/philosophical underpinning, we were likely to create a framework which would, at best, not facilitate the development of an appropriate curriculum and, at worst, would make it impossible. I shall endeavour to assess the extent to which my own curriculum concerns have been addressed in the final chapter.

Chapter 3 Towards a first draft

Key Stages 1-4 Working Groups: Spring 1991

The working groups met twice in the spring of 1991, on 24 April and 17 May. They were to discuss the second Westhill document Assessment, Recording and Reporting RE but unfortunately, there had been a series of delays in publishing this and it was not available at the time.

They were also to study the interim report from Suffolk: RE in the basic curriculum, based on Westhill's Attainment in RE but including a structure based on levels similar to those used in National Curriculum documents; and the interim report from Hampshire's Working Party on Assessment in Religious Education which had been published in October 1990.

However, the main discussion on 24 April focused on a letter which had been sent by the Department of Education and Science to Chief Education Officers on 18 March.

This letter followed the outcome of the Secretary of State's consideration of complaints about Ealing's new syllabus. The question was whether the syllabus reflected (in the words of the 1988 Act) 'the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian whilst taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain.'

The advice of the DES was that 'it seems likely that the Court ... would find that a syllabus which is to meet the statutory requirements must give sufficient particulars for it to be clear that the teaching carried out in pursuance of that syllabus would be consistent with the requirements of the provision' (DES 18 March 1991).

The letter went on to suggest that a properly constructed syllabus would achieve this by 'devoting most attention to Christian traditions' whilst at the same time not excluding from its teaching 'any of the principal religions represented in Great Britain'. It added that 'the precise balance of the content would need to be determined locally in the light of local factors, such as the composition of the local community'. The working groups expressed concerns that this advice could damage the promotion of equal opportunities and the development of a world view by implying that, for example, in an all-white area it was not so important to teach about faiths other than Christianity. Some would argue that the reverse would be true.

Equally importantly, the letter suggested that the syllabus should indicate 'which of such matters (religious traditions, practices and teaching) should appropriately be taught at various ages and times'. The working groups interpreted this as indicating that programmes of study arranged in key stages would need statutory backing.

Furthermore, the syllabus should 'not be confined to information about religions and religious traditions, practices and teaching, but extend to wider areas of morality including the difference between right and wrong, and the effect that religious beliefs and practices have on people's daily lives'. Was this the key to the government's attitude to religious education - that, just as in the 1944 White Paper Educational Reconstruction - religious education was to be the panacea for the nation's ills?

The letter concluded that 'in the light of the above, the Secretary of State is not satisfied that an agreed syllabus could fully meet the requirements of Section 8(3) unless it gives sufficient guidance to the reader, and thus the teacher, as to what Christian traditions, learning, teaching and festivals are going to be taught and what elements are going to be taught in respect of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain.'

There was little doubt, then, of the central importance of specificity and it was largely this advice from the DES which convinced the working groups that the attainment targets and programmes of study should be made statutory.

Arguments were made against this: it was noted that other local authorities had decided not to do so. There was a fair amount of good will among teachers, especially at the primary level, and it was feared that many teachers might opt out of teaching religious education if attainment targets and programmes of study were given statutory force. Previous handbooks for religious education had been collections of suggestions: the new handbook would be more specific and non-specialists might find it too much.

On the other hand, the status of the subject would seem to demand statutory backing if it were to be seen as equal in status and importance. Much money was being devoted to other subjects, like the humanities, which were statutory. Would more money be available for religious education if it had the same status? The members of the working groups were not sure! Equally, a handbook which was more specific might actually be more helpful to the non-specialist than a book of mere ideas and suggestions.

The working groups studied both the Suffolk document RE in the basic curriculum and the Hampshire document on Assessment in Religious Education: both these were interim reports.

Suffolk: RE in the basic curriculum

RE in the basic curriculum began with an introduction which made clear that the existing Suffolk agreed syllabus was still regarded as 'highly appropriate' in as far as it described 'a coherent programme which is relevant to all pupils, regardless of their faith background. The general objectives for each phase broadly indicate how RE should relate to the levels of maturity, experience and social background of the pupils' (Suffolk 1990:3). So much so that the final document would be seen as 'part two of the agreed syllabus.' It pointed out that 'in Circular 3/89 the Secretary of State advised that an LEA, in conjunction with a SACRE or Standing Conference, could develop attainment targets and programmes of study to realise more effectively the intentions of the agreed syllabus. This report is in response to that advice' (Suffolk 1990:4).

What, then, was the structure offered in this document? First, there were to be two profile components:

the Nature of Belief
the Language of Belief
In profile component A we find three attainment targets:
AT1 Experience and Belief;
AT2 Belief and Behaviour;
AT3 Believing Communities;
and in profile component B we have just one:
AT4 Expressing Meaning
The relationship of the agreed syllabus to the attainment targets was explained: 'the attainment targets do not extend the scope or range of the agreed syllabus. They describe progressively and in detail the knowledge, understanding and skills identified in the syllabus' (Suffolk 1990:16).

The characteristics of religious education at each key stage were described as:

Key Stage 1: Extend experience, developing sensitivity, developing basic skills and knowledge;
Key Stage 2: Gathering and organising information, asking questions, using language appropriately;
Key Stage 3: Understanding ideas and basic concepts;
Key Stage 4: Using values, explanations and concepts.
It was pointed out that this was a syllabus, not a curriculum: 'this document seeks to provide a framework, but not to deny teachers a sufficient degree of freedom and flexibility to meet the needs of their pupils' (Suffolk 1990:17).

The main criticism of this document by the working groups was in relation to its complexity. In addition to profile components, attainment targets, statements of attainment and programmes of study, the scheme also identified 'recurring strands'. For example, the strands in Attainment Target 1 (Experience and belief) were identified as: 'self; others; humanity; environment, belief' (Suffolk 1990:23).

The question of levels was discussed at some length. The Westhill document had not used levels in its structure: the Suffolk document did. There is not space here to reproduce all the statements of attainment at all ten levels for one attainment target - let alone all the statements of attainment at all ten levels for all four attainment targets! Perhaps that sentence gives some idea of the complexity involved - and the 'recurring strands' have not even been mentioned yet!

The general consensus of the working group was that teachers simply wouldn't have the time to cope with this level of complexity, bearing in mind that pupils in their classes could well be working at several different levels at once. The Suffolk model, then, though useful and interesting, was not felt to offer the working groups the way forward.

Hampshire: Assessment in Religious Education

The working groups then looked at the interim report of the Hampshire Working Party on Assessment in Religious Education, which had been published in October 1990.

In its introduction, this document suggested four reasons why the Hampshire SACRE had proposed the development of a new agreed syllabus:

    1 The need to express the syllabus in terms which match the language and approach of the National Curriculum.
    2 The need to provide clearer guidance about the pattern of Religious Education in the first and middle years.
    3 The need to provide clearer continuity and progression in Religious Education from 5-18.
    4 The need to provide a policy which will be a basis for and incorporate clear assessment arrangements for Religious Education.
(Hampshire 1990:1)

The working groups approved of these aims. But how and to what extent did the document achieve them?

The Hampshire proposals were based on a National Curriculumstyle structure including profile components, attainment targets, statements of attainment, programmes of study and arrangements for assessment and recording.

The report suggested two profile components 'to define the curriculum area in broad terms to reflect the range of knowledge, skills, understandings and attitudes which are to be developed' (Hampshire 1990:4).

These two profile components were:

A: Experience, Symbol and Meaning; and
B: Knowledge and Understanding of Religious Belief and Practice.
Five attainment targets were offered: they 'represent the sub-headings of the profile components. They define aspects of each component to make sense of the subject' (Hampshire 1990:5).

The two attainment targets in Profile Component A were:

1 Human Experience; and
2 Story, Symbol and Meaning
In Profile Component B the attainment targets were:
3 Sacredness and Authority;
4 Worship and Celebration; and
5 Beliefs, Behaviour and Community.
Of the programmes of study the report said: 'They are the most important part of the whole exercise and focus on the kinds of learning experiences which are appropriate to the achievement of the attainment targets. The programmes of study give guidance about the kinds of experiences, methods and opportunities which should be provided for pupils' (Hampshire 1990:7). It was made clear that 'the programmes of study do not constitute schemes of work ... it is not our intention to provide prescribed Study Units' (Hampshire 1990:7), but it reminded teachers that, when making a selection from the content, they must bear in mind the requirements of the 1988 Education Act in relation to the balance between Christianity and other faiths.

Statements of attainment were intended to provide 'an indication of what pupils might be expected to know, understand and be able to to do in each attainment target and at each key stage' (Hampshire 1990:8).

However - and importantly, the report made clear that 'we must be very circumspect about any requirement to measure or test precisely the point at which pupils have arrived in religious education. The view is that in religious education the term "assessment" must be understood in a very broad way and should not be confused with measurement and testing. It is extremely difficult to give a detailed assessment in an area of the curriculum like religious education, as indeed it is in many other areas which are involved with those dimensions of human life which are concerned with feelings and inner experience. The emphasis on assessment in religious education should be formative and related primarily to the furthering of the learning experience' (Hampshire 1990:8).

This paragraph was printed in bold type in the report and was felt by the working groups to be very important.

The report made much of continuity and progression and identified a number of characteristics of pupils at each key stages. So, for example, pupils aged 5-7 (Key Stage 1) 'will begin religious education by exploring and reflecting on their own experiences and feelings' (Hampshire 1990:9). At Key Stage 2 (ages 7-11) pupils 'are no longer dependent on their sense-perceptions and are able to view other people in a more objective and detailed way ... they will need little encouragement to widen their own horizons, observing the way people behave, and exploring their reasons for doing so' (Hampshire 1990:9).

The report also stressed the importance of skills in religious education, offering a list based on the 1982 Durham syllabus. This included, for example:

  • observing the world and appreciating beauty, order, shape, pattern;
  • entering imaginatively into the experience, intentions, beliefs and desires of other people;
  • understanding and sharing the experiences of awe and wonder felt by others;
  • realising that others base their lives on their own sets of concepts and ideals;
and so on.

Some skills 'may be developed particularly through religious education ... others ... are developed across the whole curriculum' (Hampshire 1990:11).

Finally, the report considered assessing and recording religious education. Following up its earlier statement about assessment, it concluded that 'there is little value in checking whether pupils know particular facts on particular occasions ... the best evidence about progress and attainment is provided by classroom observation over a period of time in the context of formative assessment ... the statements of attainment give a broad indication of progress against which pupils can demonstrate their attainment through a variety of examples of evidence about their knowledge, understanding, awareness and response' (Hampshire 1990:11-12).

The most successful model of recording was likely to be one that involved:

  • evidence of the main learning experiences offered;
  • evidence of the outcomes of assessment over a period of time;
  • examples of pupils' work over a period of time.
The interim report contained details of Key Stages 1-3: presumably the final report will deal with later stages.

The working group liked the Hampshire document and in particular its attitude to assessment: there was much to commend here. The group was, however, still anxious to know what Westhill would have to say about assessment.

Conclusions from the documentation

Having reviewed the documentation available at the time, the working groups discussed what the structure of the new curriculum should be.

Firstly, did they want levels in religious education as Suffolk was proposing? There was some discussion as to whether levels should be content or skills based. The whole concept of levels was felt to be fraught with problems and the practical difficulties of constructing them almost insurmountable: on this point (as on others), the Hampshire report was felt to be more appropriate.

Secondly, would there be profile components and attainment targets as in National Curriculum subjects and the Westhill document? The groups decided to have profile components and attainment targets, but there was less agreement on what they should be.

The group working on Key Stages 1 and 2 suggested:

Profile Component A: Exploring and Responding
AT1: Exploring and responding

Profile Component B: Experience, Symbol and Meaning
AT2: Awareness of and relating to oneself, others and our world
AT3: Story, symbol and meaning

Profile Component C: Knowledge and understanding of religious belief and practice
AT4: Special people and things
AT5: Worship and celebration
AT6: Beliefs, behaviour and community

The group working on Key Stages 3 and 4 suggested:
Profile Component A: Knowledge and Understanding of Religious Belief and Practice
Profile Component B: Awareness of and Response to Life Experiences and the Questions they Raise
When the two groups came together, they decided to abandon the term 'profile components' and call them 'aims' instead.

There would be two aims:

1 Awareness of and response to life experiences and the questions they raise;
2 Knowledge, understanding and evaluation of religious belief and practice.
It is indicative of the sometimes muddled thinking of the working parties that these were considered to be 'aims'. They could, of course, have been translated into aims by changing some of the wording. The first, for example, could have been considered an aim if it had begun 'to raise awareness of ...' As they stand, however, they are clearly not statements of aims.

The working groups wrestled with the problem of evaluation in religious education. They felt that personal involvement was an essential ingredient, and that the evaluative/affective areas of various other subjects had been ignored or reduced because they were more difficult to measure. It was felt that the two aims did not sufficiently encompass the idea of personal involvement, so after further discussion, it was agreed to have three 'aims':

1 Awareness of and response to life experiences and the questions they raise;
2 Knowledge, understanding and evaluation of religious belief and practice;
3 To evaluate the significance of religious concepts, beliefs and practices by being able to express a personal opinion based on the use of appropriate evidence and argument.
Attainment targets to support these 'aims' were then agreed:
AT1: Worship, meditation and celebration.
AT2: Beliefs and their effect on lifestyle, identity and relationships
AT3: Sacredness, authority and tradition
AT4: Ultimate questions.
Finally, concerns were expressed about time allocation. Problems were being caused in schools by the demands of the new National Curriculum history and geography courses: secondary teachers felt that religious education was being squeezed out, while in some schools religious education was part of a humanities course with time allocation determined by non-religious education teachers. It was agreed that a statement should be included in the syllabus about time allocation, though there was argument as to whether a minimum should be specified or advised. Somewhat reluctantly, the group decided to advise a minimum of five per cent of the timetable for religious education.

Key Stage 5 Working Group: June 1991

The Key Stage 5 working group met on 4 June to prepare guidelines for sixth form religious education. The members were addressed by Jo Fageant, Berkshire's advisory teacher for religious education.

Various matters were first discussed: the recent White Paper on sixth form education had raised questions about the role of school sixth forms. Religious education would be compulsory for sixth formers in schools, but not in colleges. Head teachers were anxious that this might mean that students would rather leave school and attend a college, but they had no choice but to provide religious education for all students: it was now a legal requirement.

Jo Fageant described how Berkshire had established a working group in 1989 to provide advice for the county's schools on religious education in the sixth form.

The immediate difficulties were the wide variation in the level of provision and the attitudes and abilities of the staff involved. Some schools had tried one-day conferences, modular approaches and a regular weekly lesson. In some schools it was taught by a specialist, in others by a form tutor.

The group had produced a booklet for use in sixth forms. This contained an introduction which set out the rationale for sixth form religious education including links with the agreed syllabus, aims, attitudes and skills. But each sixth form was encouraged to construct its own programme reflecting the needs and interests of its students.

The booklet also included a list of suggested topics (shown below), useful resources and examples of lesson plans. The Berkshire SACRE had been kept informed of this work.

Topics for sixth form religious education

Science and religion
The role of women in religious traditions
The problems of evil and suffering
Religious mythology
Medical ethics
Fringe religions
New religious movements
War, violence and revolution
The Arab/Israeli conflict
Northern Ireland
Literature and the Bible
Life after death
Monasticism and religious communities
Christian denominations
Values and belief systems
World faiths (Hinduism, Buddhism, Tsaoism etc)
Work, leisure and money - are there moral obligations?
Does God exist?
Creation - religious and humanists viewpoints
Jesus in art and drama
Secular ideology - Marxism, humanism etc
Who was Jesus- the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith
Where do we come form? What are we doing here? Where are we going?
The Bible - reliable and relevant for the 1990s?
Love, marriage and family life
Law and authority, crime and punishment
Religion at the cinema - issues in films like 'The Mission', 'The Witness' etc
Controversial theological issues - virgin birth, miracles, resurrection etc
Inter-faith dialogue
Liberation theology in South America
Biographical and autobiographical examples of people applying principles to life experiences
The rich and poor worlds
Issues facing Christianity in the twentieth century - sectarian conflict, wealth and poverty, human rights, the role of women etc
Prejudice, discrimination and persecution
Religion and food
Worship and prayer in various traditions
Religious responses to environmental issues
Jo Fageant asked the group to consider what was distinctive about sixth form work? She suggested that it depended on a particular school's approach. The 'seven dimensions' in the Berkshire agreed syllabus might become attainment targets: some of these were more appropriate to sixth form students than younger people.

Was greater depth enough at sixth form level? Should it have a uniqueness? GCSE and A level supplied this significant difference, but not all sixth form courses provided greater depth: some offered a broad overview. Some topics could be made different by the method used - for example, lecture and debate. One Berkshire school advertised sixth form religious education modules at the start of the year and students could choose from these. It was agreed that the idea of choice was important - for teachers as well as for students.

It was felt that it was the method rather than the content that provided uniqueness: there was often very little written work, rather the courses consisted mainly of debates, discussion, research and presentations.

There was no reason why there shouldn't be any written work: religious education could be creditable in terms of AS level and this made it more attractive to some students. Questions were asked as to the likely future of AS levels: students, parents and universities still preferred the traditional three A levels, but it was felt that AS levels would stay as long as A levels did. Should students who were already taking A or AS level religious education also take the core course or should these be alternatives?

Isobel Vale suggested that radical changes were on the horizon in relation to alternative, probably vocational, qualifications. We had to be realistic about the nature of sixth form religious education but it must be identifiable, even though it might be delivered as part of a general studies or personal and social education course. It would inevitably vary from school to school so it would be no good specifying a particular method.

It was suggested that the sixth form was the time when many young people were beginning to think seriously and personally. Some questioned this, feeling that the process started much earlier than the sixth form.

The importance of continuity was stressed and it was agreed that there should be particular emphasis on the intellectual and personal development of students - the third aim of the syllabus was particularly appropriate for sixth form work. Some members of the group felt that attainment targets would be too restricting, that not having them would add to the distinctiveness of sixth form work, and that they would impose too great a burden on heads and teachers. Some even felt that if we introduced attainment targets at sixth form level, many schools would simply refuse to teach religious education. Others felt that without them the subject would be devalued in relation to others. A compromise could be a statement such as 'sixth form courses should build on the attainment statements at Key Stage 4.'

It was agreed that religious education in the sixth form should include discussion of meaning, purpose, values, religious standpoints on world issues, and the skills of insight, reflection, spirituality. It was felt that developing moral values was a task for the whole school rather than just religious education, though religious education certainly had an important part to play.

Methodology and approach would vary from school to school but there were felt to be certain key features: openness of debate, choice (there was much argument as to the extent to which this would be desirable and/or possible); the use of specialist speakers, of lecture and debate, seminars, conferences, group discussions and presentations. All core religious education courses must comply with the agreed syllabus and must be clearly identifiable as so doing: general discussion lessons, though valuable in themselves, might not meet this requirement.

Recording achievement at sixth form level was no less a problem than at earlier key stages. Methods of recording must be appropriate and the national scheme for Records of Achievement might be involved at a later stage. The members of the group were anxious to see what Westhill had to say about this matter.

It was suggested that an agreed syllabus should not be written to allow for the fact that religious education was often taught by non-specialists: its integrity should be maintained.

Finally, the question as to whether sixth form courses must obey the 1988 Act's injunction concerning Christianity and other faiths was discussed.

It was eventually agreed that the sixth form (Key Stage 5) section of the agreed syllabus should contain:

  • a statement of its relationship with the aims of the other key stages;
  • a definition of sixth form religious education in terms of its distinctiveness and uniqueness;
  • suggestions as to methodology and approach;
  • examples of content.

Working Groups: June 1991

The last meeting of the working groups before the Statutory Conference was a two-day session on 17 and 18 June 1991. The purpose was to complete the first draft of Part One of the new Agreed Syllabus - dealing with the educational value of religious education, the legal framework, aims, attainment targets, key stages etc.

Members of the working groups were told that advice from the Religious Education Council and the National Curriculum Council on drafting syllabuses would be published in the autumn: it would be useful to test our first attempts against the advice from these bodies.

The budget would allow for six further working days. There would then be consultation evenings in each of the county's divisions and the draft syllabus would be presented to the Statutory Conference in January 1992.

A statement on Records of Achievement was agreed which suggested that: 'Schools are encouraged to develop systems of recording pupil achievement in religious education based on the attainment targets for each key stage and the polices of the local education authority and the practice of the school on profiling and records of achievement.'

Statutory Conference: July 1991

The Statutory Conference met again on 9 July 1991 and considered the first draft of part one of the Agreed Syllabus. Its contents were:

Foreword - Chief Education Officer
The educational value of religious education
The legal framework
Religious Education
Collective Worship
The rights of parents and teachers
Information and complaints

The aims of religious education

Key Stages in religious education
Key stages 1 and 2
Key Stages 3 and 4 including core and GCSE
Key Stage 5 including A and AS levels

Using this syllabus

Attainment Targets
1: Worship, meditation, celebration
2: Beliefs, behaviour, community, the natural world
3: Sacredness, authority, traditions
4: Ultimate questions

Programmes of Study

Recording Achievement

Glossary of Terms

The draft syllabus was introduced by Isobel Vale. Discussion then focussed on a miscellany of issues: Should the whole syllabus be statutory? Who would check whether schools were complying with it? What about schools that couldn't cope? Isobel's view was that the local education authority must cover itself by making the whole syllabus statutory - other subjects were, so why not religious education?

There was much discussion about the statement that 'Religious education is no longer equated with religious instruction or with the indoctrination of pupils into any particular religious tradition.' It was suggested that this might offend faith communities. What was the difference between indoctrination and nurture or induction? The decision was that the whole sentence should be removed.

A technical error relating to the position of controlled schools was corrected.

Whilst it was noted that there was mention of special schools in the draft, it was also pointed out that there was no mention of the position of special needs pupils in mainstream classes: this was seen as important in the light of the county's policy of integration.

There was much discussion as to what 'principal religions' meant. Did it refer to numbers in a particular area - Hindus in Banbury, for example? In the end it was agreed that the draft did reflect the 1988 Act.

Isobel said she had concerns about implicit religious education at Key Stages 3 and 4 - would some secondary schools 'opt out' of religious education under the cover of personal and social education?

Some members felt that the Conference should be more specific about the level of teacher provision needed for religious education and wanted the SACRE to make stronger recommendations about this and resources.

Concerns were also expressed about:

  • allocation of time;
  • reporting achievement to parents;
  • the format of the document: why were two separate documents being proposed? - couldn't they be put together?;
  • the role of governors: because of their responsibility they should have copies of the syllabus.
The Conference approved the work that had been done so far and the programme for further development of the syllabus which Isobel Vale presented. Unfortunately, it was only realised afterwards that the meeting had not been quorate - no councillors had been present. The work would continue, and the decisions would be put to the next meeting of the Statutory Conference in January 1992.

Chapter 4 Working on the draft

After a year of meetings, consideration of much documentation and seemingly endless deliberations, the working groups had produced a first draft of part one of the new syllabus. But there was still much to be done: the attainment targets would need revising, statements of attainment would need to be written, as would the programmes of study which would form part two of the syllabus.

During the summer of 1991 Isobel Vale had discussions with other local education authority advisors about using the Westhill format and met Barbara Wintersgill of the National Curriculum Council who agreed to come and speak to the working groups. The draft of the new Westhill document Assessing, recording and reporting RE was published, as was the National Curriculum Council's booklet Religious education - a local curriculum framework.

The working groups were to have six days in which to complete the syllabus so that consultation evenings could be held around the county during November and the syllabus could be presented to the Statutory Conference in January 1992.

The working groups met on 23 September 1991 and considered new agreed syllabuses from Sussex, Croydon and Gloucestershire, which were all based on Westhill.

They agreed that the first four key stages should deal with:

1: Experience and awareness;
2: Gathering and organising information;
3: Forming basic concepts; and
4: Using and relating concepts.

Westhill Memorandum: Attainment in RE - some considerations for LEAs/SACREs

They then considered a memorandum from Westhill, designed to be read alongside Attainment in RE and the new publication Assessing, Recording and Reporting RE.

This memorandum included a critique of Attainment in RE which suggested that its structure was 'over elaborate'. In line with other National Curriculum subjects, it proposed reducing the number of attainment targets (from ten to three). It also suggested that the attainment targets had been too content-based and that, as in the history document, the attainment targets should be process-based.

It was important to appreciate the inter-relationship of the attainment targets - this had not been clear from the layout in Attainment in RE.

Two questions about statements of attainment were asked: 'Should statements of attainment for RE be broad and general or should they be specific "can do's"; does it matter if they are a mixture of the two?' (Westhill 1991a:2)

Finally, should programmes of study be associated with an attainment target at a key stage, or should they be independent, so that attainment targets set out processes and programmes of study the content?

The memorandum suggested that the three-fold structure of Attainment in RE was worth retaining. The three broad areas were identified as helping pupils to develop:

  • ways of understanding the ideas, beliefs, values, attitudes and behaviour of others;
  • awareness of some of the experiences of life which prompt questions about its meaning, value and purpose;
  • their own values, beliefs and attitudes by reflecting on the experiences of others (Westhill 1991a:3).
The Westhill memorandum was particularly interesting in relation to its concept of curriculum design: it demonstrated a clear shift towards a process model of the curriculum and away from the aims and objectives model of other National Curriculum subjects. This can be seen in, for example, its stress on 'the primacy of programmes of study'. (The Hampshire report had taken a similar line). The memorandum was rightly critical of some National Curriculum documents which 'make the real focus of the curriculum the objectives which are to be assessed ... rather than the learning opportunities which pupils should have' (Westhill 1991a:4). The original science order, for example, 'in terms of presentation, appears to place its emphasis on matters for assessment and relegates the learning experiences to a secondary role' (Westhill 1991a:4).

The memorandum discussed styles of programmes of study, ranging from those found in the science curriculum which suggested that 'pupils should investigate ... pupils should experience ...' to those found in the geography curriculum which demanded that 'pupils shall be taught ...' The former were seen as open-ended, inviting teachers 'to consider lively, interesting and pupil-focused activities to stimulate learning' whereas the latter were seen as a more closed approach. Westhill had therefore, in this respect, chosen the approach of the science curriculum as being 'the most helpful way of setting out the learning curriculum' (Westhill 1991a:5).

With regard to statements of attainment, the memorandum suggested that the ten-level model proposed by the Task Group on Assessment and Testing 'is so flawed in conception ... that the broader, end of key stage statement model represents a more viable alternative for religious education' (Westhill 1991a:5).

The three profile components of Attainment in RE were to become three attainment targets and a model was suggested which emphasised their equal value and inter-dependence: 'Whatever the content, all three processes represented in the attainment targets are taking place in any learning experience' (Westhill 1991a:7).

Finally, the memorandum suggested that, in relation to assessment procedures, the following points might be made:

  • there will be no external assessment of religious education (except Religious Studies in Key Stage 4);
  • religious education will be assessed in schools by teachers;
  • recording religious education should form part of school policy;
  • reporting religious education should be on the basis of the subject taken as a whole;
  • reporting religious education should be in line with and form part of the school and local education authority policies on records of achievement (Westhill 1991a:12).
The working groups were in agreement with almost everything in the Westhill memorandum and especially pleased that it had made a number of points which they themselves had already agreed (such as the comments about assessment and the abandonment of profile components).

There was less agreement about the form the syllabus was beginning to take: arguments about the number and nature of aims and attainment targets led to a certain amount of frustration. This was hardly surprising given the complexity of the task and the limited amount of time available for it.

It was eventually agreed that, in the light of the advice from Westhill and others, the attainment targets should be reduced in number from four to three. The working groups for key stages 1-4 then discussed attainment statements for each target at each key stage. The first attempt at this task is shown below. As we were to realise later, it was full of vague and confused ideas and lacking in any sort of philosophical or educational rigour. However, we were rather pleased with it at the time!

There was no attempt at this stage to try to produce programmes of study, though some examples were put together to see how these might look and how they might be set out.

There was also discussion as to how the programmes of study should relate to the attainment targets. It was felt that the programmes of study should relate at each key stage to a list of themes - worship, meditation, celebration, beliefs, behaviour, community, the natural world, sacredness, authority, traditions and ultimate questions - rather than directly to the attainment targets.


AT1: Knowledge and
understanding of
religious belief
and practice
AT2: Understanding
the influence and
impact of religion
on people's lives
AT3: Evaluation of
issues arising from
the study of religion
Begin to be aware that some people worship God or meditate regularly in special places and at special times including their homes and that it is important to them Begin to be aware that a religious belief is the most important thing in life for some people Be aware that there are many questions about life which are very puzzling
Identify the main observable features of acts of worship and festivals To be able to give examples of how beliefs result in particular codes of conduct and lifestyles for individuals and religious communities Identify that there are questions to which people give different answers including questions about God
Account for the significance and context of ritual actions and symbols for religious believers Develop an understanding of the concept of commitment in a religious context Formulate and express their own ideas through simple argument and reason by relating to questions arising from the study of religion
To be able to analyse the symbolic nature of religious worship and expression and to explore how these relate to the central belief of a religion Explain ways in which believers apply principles based on religious authority to issues in their lives and recognise how this might lead to unity/disunity in the wider community To express their own thoughtful personal responses to questions and issues about beliefs and values whilst showing an understanding and evaluation of views different from their own

Barbara Wintersgill

The working groups met again on 8 October. On this occasion they had the benefit of Barbara Wintersgill's advice. Barbara, a member of the National Curriculum Council, was working with a number of local authorities as they reviewed and revised their syllabuses. She certainly brought a breath of fresh air to our deliberations: she was forthright about the need for clear thinking, especially in relation to the attainment targets and statements. While complimenting us on the work we had done so far, she expressed concern about the muddled thinking of some of our proposals.

She pointed out that if statements of attainment were to be of any use they must be both technically accurate - having an internal logic - and comprehensible. It was essential to avoid jargon and codes. They must be in good plain English and as brief as possible: the issue of accessibility of language was an important one. Furthermore, the attainment statements for any key stage must be comparable in terms of pupils' conceptual levels and understanding and there must be clear continuity and progression between key stages.

Secondly, it was important that expectations in religious education should be comparable with those of other National Curriculum subjects: we should not expect less of our pupils than was expected in other areas of the curriculum.

She suggested that the programmes of study were equally as important as the attainment targets: they had to be interlinked. There was an interesting comparison here with the Westhill advice that the programmes of study were paramount. Some of us agreed with Westhill - that it was the process rather than the objective which was more important. This issue of curriculum design theory raised interesting discussions between primary and secondary teachers.

The programmes of study should indicate both content ('pupils should learn about ...') and methodology ('pupils should have opportunities to ... pupils should be encouraged to ...').

Matters of structure were discussed: did we want to have the same topics at each key stage? Barbara suggested that religious beliefs, ethics and religious expression (ritual and non-ritual) all needed to be included or the curriculum would not be broad and balanced. But should the balance be the same at each key stage? She suggested a possible model for consideration:

Finally, she advised us to check that our programmes of study covered all three attainment targets at each key stage.

She then led an in-depth analysis of the aims, attainment targets and statements of attainment which we had drafted.

Aims of Religious Education

First, the wording of two of our three aims was changed. The first aim: 'To be aware of and respond to life experiences and the questions they raise' became: 'To recognise and respond to the questions raised by life's experiences.' The second, 'To know about and understand religious beliefs and practices' became: 'To know about and understand religious beliefs and practices and how they influence individuals and societies.' The third aim was left unchanged: 'To evaluate the significance of religious concepts, beliefs and practices by being able to express personal opinions based on the use of appropriate evidence and argument.'

I am not sure that these changes clarified the 'aims'. To be an 'Aim for Religious Education', it seems to me that the first would have to be 'To assist/encourage/teach pupils to be aware of ...' As they stand, they may be aims for the pupils themselves but not for religious education.

Attainment Targets

The three attainment targets were felt to be appropriate in supporting the 'aims', so they were left unchanged:

AT1: Knowledge and understanding of religious belief and practice.
AT2: Understanding the influence and impact of religion on people's lives.
AT3: Evaluation of the issues arising from the study of religion.

Statements of Attainment

Key Stage One

In Key Stage One, she criticised the statement for Attainment Target 1 as being too vague. 'Begin to be aware that ... '. What did this mean? Did we mean 'Know that ... ' and if so, why not say it? She asked us what we meant by the statement and after some discussion, it was agreed that we had meant: 'Know that there are times, places and occasions associated with religion ...'

The second statement for Key Stage One was just as imprecise as the first. After some discussion we arrived at: 'Explain why religious activities are important to believers.'

Similarly with the third statement - rather than 'Be aware that ... ' we agreed on: 'To know that there are many puzzling questions about life and to share some possible explanations.'

Key Stage Two

The first statement for Key Stage Two was felt to be inadequate because, again, it did not say what we had meant. It was intended to be descriptive, so the first word should be 'Describe'. Barbara also suggested that at this stage pupils should be bringing together pieces of information and relating them to one another. Finally, why limit the scope to 'acts of worship and festivals?' The revised statement read: 'Describe the main characteristics of religious practices and how they relate to one another and be able to give a simple description of beliefs.'

The second statement was felt to be sound but the wording was simplified: 'To be able to give examples of codes of conduct and lifestyles which result from religious belief.'

In the third statement, 'Identify that there are questions ... ', we were again challenged to say what we were expecting pupils to do. Barbara suggested that we wanted them to use evidence and argument and apply them to issues. The resulting statement read: 'Compare the answers different people give to religious questions and relate these to their own views.'

Key Stage Three

The first statement for this key stage: 'Account for the significance and context ... ' was felt to be fairly meaningless. After some discussion of phenomenology, the new wording was: 'To be able to make connections between religious beliefs and practice.'

The second statement: 'Develop an understanding of ... ' was rewritten more straightforwardly: 'Explain how personal commitments have effects on the individual and on others.'

The third statement, 'Formulate and express their own ideas ... ' was also simplified and a final phrase added relating personal beliefs to the views of others: 'Express their own ideas through the use of evidence and argument, recognising why other people have different views.'

Key Stage Four

Again, a more straightforward wording for the first statement was agreed: 'To be able to explain and give reasons for the diversity of religious practices and how they relate to a variety of beliefs.'

Similarly, the second statement was simplified to read: 'To explain the nature of religious commitment and the varied extent to which it influences individuals, communities and nations.'

The final statement was changed completely. It now read: 'Evaluate the extent to which judgements might change in different circumstances of time and place.'

Key Stage Five

Attainment statements for this key stage had not been previously suggested. After some discussion, the following were agreed:

1: To know and understand some implications of the place of religion in society and to be introduced to the debates concerning religious beliefs.
2: To analyse the impact of religion on people's lives and to be aware of the great variety of responses to that impact.
3: To evaluate the arguments for and against religious beliefs.

The day with Barbara Wintersgill had been enormously thought-provoking and productive. We now felt we were beginning to see an outline syllabus which had some internal logic, which had progression and continuity and, even more importantly, which said what we meant. Some fine tuning of the wording of the attainment statements was agreed: the final version is shown below.

The next step would be to produce programmes of study, and there were few days left for this task if we were to be ready with the syllabus for the Statutory Conference in January 1992.

A further document was presented to us as we moved into this phase: the National Curriculum Council's 'Religious Education - a local curriculum framework'.


AT1: Knowledge and
understanding of
religious belief
and practice
AT2: Understanding
the influence and
impact of religion
on people's lives
AT3: Evaluation of
issues arising from
the study of religion
To know that there are special occasions, artefacts and places associated with religion and say what they are for To explain why religious activities are important To know that there are many puzzling questions about life and to share some possible explanations
To describe the main characteristics of religious practices and how they relate to one another and to give an outline description ofthe beliefs To be able to give examples of codes of conduct and lifestyle which result from holding a religious belief To compare the answer different people give to religious questions and relate these to their own views
To be able to make connections between religious belief and practice Explain how personal commitments have effects on the individual and others To express their own ideas through using evidence and argument and recognise why others have different views
To be able to explain and give reasons for the diversity of religious practices and how these relate to differences of belief To be able to explain the nature of religious commitment and the extent to which it influences individuals, communities and nations To evaluate the extent to which judgements might change in relation to changing circumstances of time and place
To know and understand some implications of the place of religion in society. To be introduced to the debates concerning religious belief. To analyse the impact of religion on people's lives. To be aware of the great variety of responses to that impact To evaluate the arguments for and against religious belief. To evaluate the impact of religion on people's lives

Religious Education - a local curriculum framework (NCC)

This booklet from the National Curriculum Council, prepared with help from Patrick Hannibal and Michael Grimmitt, set out to offer 'advice to SACREs, agreed syllabus conferences and LEAs who wish to consider the desirability of drawing up attainment targets and programmes of study for religious education in their authority, and to offer advice on their construction' (NCC 1991 Foreword).

Having described the structure of other National Curriculum subjects, the booklet offered the following principles for constructing attainment targets:

  • a small number of attainment targets makes planning and assessment simpler;
  • the terminology used to describe them should be intelligible to non-specialists, parents and governors; their titles should be short and should include a word describing an area of competence, such as 'interpret', 'know', 'understand', 'apply', or 'evaluate';
  • each one should make only one requirement of pupils unless an attainment target contains more than one strand;
  • each one should be introduced by words which show its relationship to the programmes of study, eg 'demonstrating their knowledge of the content in the programmes of study, pupil should be able to ...';
  • they should be so framed as to be accessible to as many pupils as possible.
The booklet then discussed statements of attainment: should there be one for each of the ten levels? An advantage of this is that they are not linked to the key stages, making it possible for teachers 'to estimate progress with accuracy.' The alternative was to have a cluster of statements all at the same level for the end of each key stage. The disadvantage of this is that 'pupils are not given the opportunity to show higher attainment than that specified for their key stage' (NCC 1991:8). This was a point not previously considered by the working groups who had abandoned the idea of following Suffolk's example of having ten levels of attainment. Despite these arguments, however, the working groups decided to keep the single statement for each attainment target at each key stage.

Principles for constructing statements of attainment were presented: 'the language used should be clear and simple... each should require a comparable standard to those at the same level in other attainment targets and in other subjects ... each should contribute to an improvement in learning standards by setting a realistic but challenging goal' etc (NCC 1991:8). The groups decided that, thanks largely to the advice of Barbara Wintersgill, our attainment statements already fulfilled these criteria.

The booklet reiterated the importance of appreciating the interdependence of attainment targets and programmes of study - 'neither has meaning without the other' - and stated that 'in the case of an agreed syllabus for RE which is based on a similar framework, it is important that both parts of the curriculum are set out' (NCC 1991:9).

Further important advice to those constructing a religious education syllabus was that 'HMI has in the past been concerned at an over-emphasis on factual knowledge and a neglect of pupils' own spiritual development. They have, moreover, observed that a distinctive subject content is often lacking when RE is combined with humanities or personal and social education' (NCC 1991:11). Again, the groups felt that we had already acknowledged these issues.

In an important paragraph, the NCC advised that 'content-based attainment targets in RE may give a distorted view of the learning objectives of the subject' (NCC 1991:12).

Topics such as celebration are 'matters to be studied which therefore belong in the programmes of study' (NCC 1991:12).

With regard to assessment, the booklet suggested that 'the subject is often seen as contributing to pupils' development in many ways which cannot easily be measured' (NCC 1991:12).

Chapter 5 The final stages

Working Groups: October - December 1991

The task of the working groups during the remaining days was to prepare the programmes of study. The key stage groups began work on this on 29 October and, in four working days in November and December (and a considerable amount of time in between) produced drafts which were considered by the whole working group so as to ensure continuity and progression.

Initially, the key stage groups divided their programmes into three sections under the headings:

  • Pupils should be introduced to ...
  • Pupils should have opportunities to ...
  • Pupils should be encouraged to ...
In Key Stage One, for example, it was suggested that

Pupils should be introduced to:

  • special occasions
  • artefacts and symbols
  • special places
  • forms of religious expression
  • caring for the environment
Pupils should have opportunities to:
  • share experience of special places
  • find out about places of worship
  • visit places of worship
  • observe/handle artefacts used in religious buildings or at home
  • experience the variety of ways of showing enjoyment and appreciating people and occasions that they and others value etc.
Pupils should be encouraged to:
  • show respect for others by behaving appropriately in special places and when handling objects special to others
  • express their own feelings and responses in creative ways using a variety of media
To support each of these sub-sections (or 'bullets' as they were referred to) were some examples of the sort of work that might be undertaken. These examples would be the only non-statutory part of the syllabus.

So, for 'special occasions' we have: birthdays, birth and naming ceremonies, weddings, festivals (harvest, Christmas, Hanukkah, Divali, Easter, Eid-ul Fitr, Passover etc).

A similar format was adopted for the other key stages, except that for Key Stages Three and Four we have 'Pupils should be taught about ... ' rather than 'Pupils should be introduced to ... '.

The Key Stage Five Group worked independently at this point.

On 6 November the working groups were sorry to hear that the advisor, Isobel Vale, had been taken ill. She had sent a message, however, asking the groups to consider the following points:

  • How can we ensure that the work in Key Stages 1-4 is 'in the main Christian'? Should there be specifically Christian 'bullets'? The groups decided that there should not, and that the wording at the start of each key stage programme of study would have to ensure that this requirement was met.
  • How can we preserve flexibility for teachers and schools whilst ensuring that the curriculum is 'in the main Christian'? The groups felt that this balance would be achieved by a combination of the wording at the start of each key stage programme of study and the suggested examples of work.
  • Are continuity and progression possible at Key Stage Three? Are pupils developing at this age at such diverse rates that it is impossible to allow for continuity and progression? The groups agreed that, while it was true that this age was one of diversity of development in pupils, the problem of constructing an appropriate curriculum was not insuperable.
  • Were the headings (or 'bullets') sufficient in themselves, or should there be brief explanations for each of them? The groups decided that the exemplars would be sufficient explanation.
  • Should Key Stage Four include the study of a world religion in depth, so as to meet GCSE requirements? The groups were undecided about this, but felt that skills could be the link between the agreed syllabus and the GCSE syllabus.
  • Finally, should there be biblical references to assist teachers? And if so, should there also be references for other religions? It was agreed that a list of useful biblical references should be provided as an appendix to the syllabus.
There was some discussion of Key Stage Five at this point: if sixth form work was to be arranged in modules, how should time allocation be specified? Would sixth form religious education persuade students to go to colleges instead of schools? Perhaps there could be some sort of county-wide accredited certification for sixth form religious education?

The remainder of the day was spent in revising the first drafts of the programmes of study.

In Key Stages One and Two, following Barbara Wintersgill's advice to be positive and forthright, 'pupils should be introduced to ... ' was replaced by 'pupils should be taught about ... ' The 'bullets' were grouped more logically and numbered so that progression through the key stages was clear. The last task was to provide examples of content.

Key Stage Five

The Key Stage Five working group had meanwhile prepared their document outlining programmes of study. The format was different from that of the earlier key stages: it was based on the following modules:

Section A

  • Science and religion
  • Death
  • Grounds for belief in God
  • Religion and secularism
  • The problem of evil and suffering
Section B
  • Sexuality and religion
  • Religion in the local community
  • Religion in a world context
  • Religion in a technological age
  • Religion in the arts
  • Varieties of religious experience
During a two year sixth form course at least four modules were to be studied, at least two of which should be from Section A; during a one year sixth form course at least two modules should be studied at least one of which should be from Section A. (The Key Stage Five working group had wanted more modules to be studied, but the other groups persuaded them to take what they saw as a more realistic approach).

The introduction to the Key Stage Five paper stated that 'At this stage students will be moving towards making connections between different beliefs based on the knowledge and understanding acquired in earlier key stages. There will be much less emphasis on detailed study of specific beliefs and practices and more on analysing the impact on individuals and on communities worldwide.'

Underlining the distinctiveness of sixth form studies, it went on: 'the range of choices between and within units is indicative of the approach which should be taken. The emphasis is on meeting the demands of attainment statements by using examples which teachers find suitable and relevant to the needs of their students.' The essential feature of this key stage, then, lay in analysing and extending concepts through a flexible approach based on choice.

To allow for even greater flexibility and choice, each module listed a number of possible courses of study. For example, 'Religion in a World Context' included:

  • Faith and world politics (eg Arab-Israeli; N Ireland)
  • World peace and the arms race
  • Human rights and the concept of global humanity
  • Environmental issues
Each module contained a number of attainment statements. For example, 'The Problem of Evil and Suffering' suggested that students should:
  • be able to understand why the existence of suffering creates a problem for religious belief;
  • be aware of a variety of religious responses to the problem of suffering.

Finally, the programmes of study listed the areas to be covered. For example, 'Grounds for Belief in God' suggested that pupils should be taught:

  • some of the main philosophical arguments for the existence of God and their limitations;
  • some of the objections to these arguments put forward by humanists and atheists (eg lack of scientific proof, the moral corruption argument etc)
  • to evaluate the weight of these arguments
  • an awareness of the grounds of belief that individuals might hold.

Comments from the consultation meetings

The consultation meetings held during November had indicated that, generally, teachers liked what the working groups had produced, though, inevitably, there were some criticisms. These were discussed at the final planned meeting of the working groups on 11 December.

The concern mentioned most frequently was the need for information about faiths other than Christianity. While the working groups were anxious to meet this need, they were also concerned that the syllabus should fulfil the requirement to be 'in the main Christian'.

Secondly, concerns were expressed that there was some disparity between the attainment statements and the content of the programmes of study. Key Stage Three was identified as the weakest in this respect: it was felt to be too content based, with little advice on approaches and strategies.

Thirdly, the issue of biblical references was raised: these, together with lists of suitable resources, were felt to be essential. The working groups had already agreed to include a list of useful biblical references as an appendix to the syllabus. They agreed to add a list of resources: they did not want this to form part of the legal document as it would be so quickly out of date.

Fourthly, concerns were expressed by some that the syllabus asked too much of teachers and by others that it did not ask enough. The groups decided this probably indicated they had got the level about right.

And finally, there were anxieties about how quickly the new syllabus would have to be implemented: it was felt that at least eighteen months would need to be allowed for this process.

With regard to the level of specificity in the syllabus it was agreed that Christianity should always be dealt with first and in some detail in the programmes of study; other religions would follow in less detail.

The programmes of study were checked for continuity and progression and a number of minor changes were made. The programmes were also checked to see that they related adequately to the attainment targets and statements.

It was felt that the syllabus fulfilled the requirements of the 1988 Act and the advice from the Department of Education and Science.

The syllabus was almost ready to be presented to the meeting of the Statutory Conference in January 1992. The remaining matters which needed attention were some fine tuning of the programmes of study, recommendations to SACRE on implementation, advice on assessment, recording and reporting, and procedures to ensure continuity in Oxford City (where the three-tier system involves transfer of pupils in the middle of Key Stages 2 and 3).

There was no time to discuss these matters on 11 December so it was agreed to have an evening meeting on 9 January 1992.

At this meeting it quickly became clear that there would only be time to make corrections and additions to the programmes of study: the other matters listed above would have to wait until after the meeting of the Statutory Conference.

A number of points were agreed in relation to the programmes of study: all of them must be taught, though there was no requirement that the same percentage of time should be spent on each one - teachers should aim to achieve a 'reasonable balance.' The programmes of study could be taught as separate units or they could be inter-related.

A note was added about pupils with special educational needs which suggested that 'all pupils, whatever their ability, should have an RE entitlement. Careful planning, differentiated work, a variety of teaching and learning styles, appropriate resources, will all need to be considered.'

Statutory Conference: 23 January 1992

Isobel Vale, the religious education advisor, was still ill at this time but had provided notes which were presented by Chris Wright, Head of Religious Education at Peers Upper School Oxford.

First the Chair of the Conference, Connie Norman, thanked Isobel and the working parties for their long and hard work and suggested that Isobel's health might have suffered as a result of the pressures it had imposed. Teachers all over the county had approved of the results. Dr John Gay (for the Church of England) seconded these thanks.

Chris Wright then introduced the syllabus, pointing out that the criticisms from the consultation meetings had been taken into account and that the format was the same as that of other National Curriculum subjects.

He led the Conference through the key stages, attainment targets and statements of attainment, stressing that there should be flexibility in the method of delivery: there was no dictation as to how the syllabus should be delivered.

He suggested that the content took note not only of conceptual development but also of physical development and cited, as an example, work on rites of passage at Key Stage 3 when most pupils would be entering puberty.

Specificity in relation to the requirement that the syllabus should be 'in the main Christian' had been achieved by spelling out the sections on Christianity in some detail, but he stressed that this did not mean that the study of other religions was unimportant.

The majority of the meeting - over ninety minutes - was then spent discussing the layout of the programmes of study. There was criticism that Christianity was dealt with first in each section in some detail, whereas the other faiths were listed in alphabetical order and often had only a word or two to suggest possible content. Penny Faust (representing Judaism) suggested that, on this basis, faith groups might wish to withdraw their children from religious education. Nick Eyre (Chair of SACRE) said we should see this as an educational document designed to help teachers. Others suggested that we should do what was right, rather than worrying about what the government required.

Chris Wright suggested keeping Christianity as the largest part of each section, but putting it in alphabetical order. It was then pointed out that only Buddhism would come before it and that this would then look odd on the page. A suggestion was made that each programme of study should be presented in a circular form, with the topic in the centre and the religions spread out like a wheel around it. Christianity would still be the largest part but need not be at the top of the page. Another suggestion was that the order of religions should be rotated on each page but it was felt that this would make the document difficult to use. It was finally agreed that possible alternative formats should be investigated.

There was also concern about the limited amount of information given for religions other than Christianity and it was agreed that members of the working party should meet representatives of the faith communities to seek their advice. It was pointed out that some faiths had been represented on the working party and that all had been invited. However, in the end it was agreed that this further consultation should take place and that there would therefore have to be another meeting of the Statutory Conference. This was fixed for Tuesday 24 March.

Assessment, recording and reporting

Before the next meeting of the Statutory Conference, a small working group was convened to discuss assessment, recording and reporting in religious education. This group met for two days, on 18 and 19 March, and, after examining a number of existing schemes and taking note of the recommendations of Westhill, proposed that teachers should be encouraged to use a planning sheet, a slightly modified version of that suggested by Westhill (Westhill 1991b:67). This would encourage teachers to follow Westhill's 'CASK' formula - concepts, attitudes, skills and knowledge - when preparing topics and lessons. Secondly, the group devised a transfer sheet - to provide information on the work covered - for the teacher or school to which a class would be transferring.

Finally, advice on record keeping and reporting would be that teachers should follow the policies of their own schools.

The working group agreed that this advice would be appended to the syllabus but would not be statutory.

Statutory Conference: 24 March 1992

When the Statutory Conference reconvened on 24 March it was first reported by the Chair, Connie Norman, that only one response had been received from a faith group (the Buddhists) since the previous meeting.

The Conference then agreed a number of amendments to the syllabus proposed by the religious education advisor, Isobel Vale. Among these were changes to the first section, one of which strengthened the post-phenomenological stance of the syllabus by suggesting that we should not only 'teach about religion' but should encourage pupils to 'reflect on religion in its many forms in the world.'

When Isobel began to suggest changes to the programmes of study, it became clear that there had been a misunderstanding as to the statutory nature of the examples provided. When it was made clear that every word in the programmes of study had statutory force, there were arguments about, for example, whether 'eggs, flowers, young animals' could be included under the heading 'Christianity'. (Key Stage 1, Special Occasions - Easter). It was eventually agreed to delete these particular examples. Some felt that the statutory element in the syllabus should be of a minimalist nature, though it was agreed that major changes could not be made at this stage.

These discussions took the Conference the whole morning, and it resumed after lunch to consider amendments from the Church of England's Diocesan Board of Education. Once again, members of the Conference were taken through the 72 page syllabus and asked to reconsider such matters as the definitions of 'faith' and 'concepts' in the glossary, and whether the inclusion of miracle stories was appropriate at Key Stage 1. Discussions of the validity of Goldmanian theories of religious education took up some considerable time. In the end, it was agreed to leave the miracles in.

Another debate centred on the Christian notion of creation, and whether Genesis chapter 1 was an appropriate text to illustrate it. In Key Stage 5, the Church of England was anxious about the module on Science and Religion, and in particular, about dealing with belief and proof. Some argued that debates about rival epistomologies might be rather advanced for sixth-formers. The Conference was anxious to accommodate the Church of England's views as far as possible, since this would ensure that the Diocesan Board of Education would recommend its use in aided schools, and this was felt to be important.

The day was thus taken up almost entirely with theological considerations. While it was, of course, essential to get these matters right, it is interesting to note that comparatively little was said about educational concerns. But perhaps this was understandable: the Conference had to ensure that the syllabus was correct and appropriate: it would be up to teachers to make it valid educationally.

By 4.30pm, the Conference had agreed the wording and layout of the syllabus. Unfortunately, it could not proceed to a vote for two reasons. First, the two councillors who had been present in the morning had had to leave so the meeting was no longer quorate. Secondly, the Church of England representatives indicated that the Diocesan Board of Education would not authorise them to vote for the syllabus without itself reviewing the changes made during the day.

This came as something of a bombshell to the Conference, especially when it was pointed out that there would be no meeting of the Board of Education to approve the new wording for some months. After some fairly acrimonious discussion about the rights of one group to delay agreement of the syllabus - possibly for a year - it was agreed that the Chair would write to the Board of Education requesting that it review the matter urgently and respond positively.

A final meeting of the Statutory Conference was arranged for 29 April for the purpose of voting on the new syllabus. At this meeting Dr John Gay announced that the Church of England representatives had been authorised to vote on the syllabus. Members of the Conference then spent an hour debating further issues concerning details of wording and, at 5.18pm, voted unanimously to accept the new syllabus.

I was especially delighted that this final decision of the Conference had been taken in my own school library.

Chapter 6 The new syllabus: an analysis

I suggested (at the end of Chapter 2) that I had concerns about both the motives for seeking a new agreed syllabus and the educational/philosophical integrity of the content of that syllabus. I pointed out that it seemed to me that the issues discussed were to a large extent concerned with complying with the law. The religious education provisions of the 1988 Act thus dominated the debates of the Statutory Conference and, later, the deliberations of the working parties.

Issues which I consider of fundamental importance for any valid educational enterprise - the nature of the curriculum; models of curriculum design; the importance of children's needs and interests; the involvement of teachers in curriculum development - have, in my view, taken second place to concerns about whether the new syllabus meets the legal requirements. One could argue that this was because what we were writing was a syllabus and not a curriculum and that, assuming a syllabus is merely a framework within which a curriculum can be developed, then these issues were not relevant in this undertaking.

In this chapter I shall argue, however, that without a sound educational/philosophical underpinning, we have created a framework which might, at best, not facilitate the development of an appropriate curriculum and, at worst, might make it impossible.

First, however, it is important to recognise that what we have produced is a syllabus, which I would define as a framework within which a curriculum can be developed. What types of curriculum, then, might it be possible to create from this framework? Let us look first at possible definitions of 'curriculum'.

Curriculum definitions

Definitions of 'curriculum' abound. The 1958 Kansas Curriculum Guide for Elementary Schools suggested that it encompasses 'all of the experiences of children for which the school should accept responsibility' (Stenhouse 1975:2). This suggests that unplanned as well as planned experiences are part of the school curriculum. Others limit the curriculum to the planned learning experiences: 'all the learning which is planned and guided by the school, whether it is carried out in groups or individually, inside or outside the school' (Kerr 1968:16).

An essential feature of a curriculum must be its potential for translation into practice. It must be 'an attempt to communicate the essential principles and features of an educational proposal in such a form that it is open to critical scrutiny and capable of effective translation into practice' (Stenhouse 1975:4). The curriculum must therefore indicate 'the learning experiences of students, in so far as they are expressed or anticipated in educational goals and objectives, plans and designs for learning and the implementation of these plans and designs in school environments' (Skilbeck 1984:21).

Denis Lawton (1986:5) approached curriculum definition from another angle when he described it as 'a selection from the culture'.

It is, then, in my view, doubtful that a single definition is enough. The curriculum can be seen in formal terms as a learning structure with programmes and courses in a sequenced, argued, methodical scheme. But there are also the informal aspects of the curriculum - the intended informal curriculum (social learning and the ethos of the school) and the unintended 'hidden' curriculum (which might, but hopefully will not, be such things as education for boredom, white European culture is best, the male is dominant etc).

For the purposes of this paper, then, I suggest the definition offered by the Taylor Report: 'Our preferred concept of the school curriculum effectively comprehends the sum of experiences to which a child is exposed at school' (Taylor 1977:52).

How does the new agreed syllabus relate to these definitions? I suggest it offers opportunities for a curriculum which fulfils them in respect of the formal, and also, hopefully, supports the informal curriculum of the school in its attention to questions of value, purpose and meaning in life and in its concern for positive attitudes to others, their beliefs and practices.

It is not the whole, of course: it forms one part of the multi-faceted curriculum of a school.

Models of curriculum design

Secondly, is there a recognisable model of curriculum design underpinning the syllabus? Three models of curriculum design are generally acknowledged: the content model, the aims and objectives model and the process model.

The content model

The content model is the simplest of the three: here the curriculum is presented simply as a list of things to be taught and learned. Is this the model of curriculum design on which the syllabus is based?

The programmes of study may look at first glance like a content-based curriculum and concerns have been expressed about them for this reason. Certainly, many pages of the programmes do consist of lists of things to be taught or learned, and I have my own reservations about this: I should like to have seen more emphasis on a child-centred approach which acknowledged the central importance of the learner, rather than the apparent dominance of the content. However, there are exceptions: 'Pupils should be encouraged to ask questions and listen to answers' (Key Stage 1) for example, permits the pupils themselves to direct the content. In addition, two of the three aims and some of the attainment statements make it clear that the syllabus is not to be thought of purely as content.

The objectives model

Perhaps the most common curriculum model is the objectives model. In this context, an objective is seen as an intended outcome expressed in terms of learner behaviour. It may be a product (a piece of artwork or an essay) or an achievement, performance or skill.

Could the syllabus be used as the basis of an objectives model curriculum? Certainly the aims and the attainment targets and statements would support such a view. 'To describe the main characteristics of religious practices and to give an outline description of the beliefs' (Key Stage 2), for example, could be regarded as a straightforward objective, the outcome of which could be measured by a simple paper-and-pencil test. However, some of the other attainment statements do not lend themselves so easily to this model: 'To compare the answers different people give to religious questions and relate these to their own views' (Key Stage 2) for example. It would be more difficult (though not impossible) to measure the outcome of this type of objective.

I believe the syllabus avoids the worst pitfalls of the objectives model. It does not, for example, avoid value issues, nor would its implementation result in reductionism: the programmes of study are not directly related to any single objective. Its insistence that assessment must be broadly based and must not concentrate on the purely measurable should avoid the temptation to trivialise. This is particularly important in religious education: 'Although it is a major concern of RE to help pupils develop their own beliefs, values, attitudes, and behaviour, it is not appropriate to make these matters for assessment' (Westhill 1991b:17). Finally, its open-ended approach should ensure that the creative and the unpredictable are not undervalued.

The process model

The process model of the curriculum shifts the focus of planning the curriculum from the nature of knowledge and skills to developing the experience of the learner. It was promoted by the Hadow and Plowden Reports and whilst it has been popular - especially in primary education - it has not been adopted as widely as had been hoped. (See, for example, HMI 1978; Galton, Simon and Croll 1980).

The fundamental problem of the process model is whether or not it is actually possible to construct a curriculum in this way. Stenhouse (1975:84) asked 'Can curriculum pedagogy be organised satisfactorily by a logic other than the means-end model? Can the demands of a curriculum specification be met without using the concepts of objectives?' He was convinced that it ought to be possible to see the curriculum other than in a means-end way. For Stenhouse the means-end model was immoral - he saw it as involving indoctrination. For him, objectives were an attempt to control the teacher whereas the process model necessitated trusting the teacher. The curriculum should be more for teachers than for pupils: there should be a reliance on judgement rather than on standards, an unwillingness to rely on measurement.

The main features of the process model are:

  • an emphasis on the subject rather than the subject matter;
  • the central importance of the teacher: involvement in curriculum design and development; a high level of professionalism, judgement rather than standards in assessment;
  • its rejection of the instrumental approach - the focus should be on the child now not on the child as a future adult;
  • its association with 'progressive' education and, in particular, with Rousseau, Froebel and Dewey;
  • its rejection of means-end rationality as the sole model of curriculum design.
To what extent, then, could the agreed syllabus be used as the basis of a process model curriculum? The fact that the syllabus is based on the National Curriculum structure, with attainment targets and statements, would suggest that to develop a process-model curriculum from it would be difficult if not impossible. However, there are aspects of the syllabus which lend themselves more to this model.

There is little doubt, for example, of the central importance of the teacher: the syllabus is not a curriculum, and the design and development of the curriculum is therefore very much in the teacher's hands. This will require a high level of professionalism, a point which has been underlined at various times during the writing of the syllabus. Furthermore, the working party was clear in its view that the teacher's judgement rather than pre-specified standards must be paramount in assessment.

Does the syllabus reject an instrumental approach - is its focus on the child now, not on the child as a future adult? To a greater or lesser extent, all school curricula have an eye to the future and can be seen in terms of 'preparing' pupils for their lives as adults. However, many aspects of the syllabus do acknowledge the integrity of the child now: 'Pupils should be encouraged to reflect on the meaning of religious beliefs and practice in their own lives ... think about people, books, events that have influenced them' (Key Stage 3), for example.

The syllabus does offer principles for the selection of content and for the making of decisions about sequence through the attainment targets and statements, and principles for the development of a teaching strategy through the programmes of study. Its assessment procedures offer principles on which to study and evaluate the progress of students and teachers. To this extent, then, a process model curriculum could be based on the syllabus.

However, I do not believe that it is possible to create an effective curriculum using any one of these models.

The fundamental problem of the simple content model is that it is based on a rationalist view of knowledge and only has validity if we accept the view that 'the central concerns of the curriculum are to transmit certain kinds of valuable knowledge and to do this in such a way as to make clear to pupils that they are divided up into certain timeless and discrete forms of rationality' (Blenkin and Kelly 1987:151).

The rationalist view regards knowledge as 'having a status that is largely independent of human experience, as 'Godgiven', and thus as absolute and, for the most part, unchanging' (Blenkin and Kelly 1987:13). In relation to the school curriculum, supporters of this view contend that certain forms or areas of knowledge are superior to others, and that it is possible to say, therefore, which forms or areas should be taught. There is no room in this view for the child other than as the recipient of this unarguably valid truth. This attitude is deeply ingrained in our society: 'Belief in the superiority of certain activities and experiences over others is too deep within our way of thinking to be dismissed lightly' (Pring 1976:55).

But what is to be the content? Who is to decide? What is the nature of knowledge? What makes this knowledge more valuable than that? Even if one were to be able to answer all these questions satisfactorily, one is still left asking about the purpose of such a curriculum. If a purpose is intended, then one is surely moving towards the objectives model; if no purpose is intended, what is the point of the curriculum?

The objectives model does not suffer from quite the same deficiency, but, on its own, it still lacks wholeness. As we have seen, education is a much broader matter than the simple achievement of outcomes which can be assessed and measured.

The process model cannot survive in isolation, either. It must have content of some sort, and will usually have some form of aims or objectives, though these may be specified rather differently from those of the objectives model.

I suggest, therefore, that an adequate curriculum will include elements of all three models and I believe that the new agreed syllabus does offer opportunities for the development of a curriculum which fulfils this requirement.

New views of religious education

If the syllabus offers the possibility of creating a teaching programme based on sound curriculum theory, does it also present opportunities for developing a programme which is in line with contemporary thinking in religious education? To what extent have the elements of that thinking (which I outlined at the end of Chapter 1) informed the new syllabus?

First, it should take a post-phenomenological standpoint. As I suggested in Chapter 1, the phenomenological approach is now largely discredited. Michael Grimmitt has, for example, pointed out that 'no method of study can be without some propositions ... value-free methods are, in fact, value-laden' (Grimmitt 1987:42). And Newbigin supports this argument: 'If ... I try to study Hinduism and all the other religions from - so to speak - an equal distance ... then I must also undertake the study of the ideology which underlies [this approach]' (Newbigin 1977:100). Grimmitt (1987:45) goes so far as to suggest that 'the use of phenomenological method effectively invalidates the educational process'.

What of the new syllabus in this context? Certainly, there are plenty of examples of phenomenology: 'Pupils should be taught about symbolic meanings ... rites of passage ... how religious people express their beliefs' (Key Stage 3). But, as I have already indicated, it does go further than this and encourages pupils to think and question, particularly in relation to their own lives and experiences. To this extent, then, the syllabus could be described as taking a post-phenomenological stance.

Secondly, religious education today is viewed not simply as the imparting of facts (and certainly not as indoctrination or confessionalism) but as part of the process of the development of pupils' spirituality, their beliefs, values and attitudes. The developmental needs of the learner are therefore paramount and must inform our attitude to knowledge and understanding and our approach to curriculum design.

The work of Piaget and Bruner showed that the gap between philosophy and psychology in the discussion of education is not as wide or as clearly recognisable as some seem to believe. This is 'a point which may in itself tell us something about the integration of knowledge' (Blenkin and Kelly 1987:146). An appreciation of the theories of learning posited by Piaget, Bruner and others suggests that we should be planning education 'in terms of developmental process', trying to develop 'a unity of understanding in the mind of the individual pupil' (Blenkin and Kelly 1987). Dewey felt it important that the child should organise his/her own knowledge, not have it done for him/her, and Kelly (1982:80) suggests that motivation, interest and relevance are all essential features of an adequate curriculum.

I am not sure to what extent the new syllabus lives up to these expectations. Certainly there are elements within it which acknowledge the primacy of the child, but there are also areas which suggest that the demands of legislation have triumphed over children's needs. What I can only describe as the fear surrounding the need for specificity (generated by the 1988 Act and, in particular, the Secretary of State's letter to Chief Education Officers) has had an insidious and distorting effect.

Thirdly, evaluation of religions has, to a large extent, been rehabilitated, so that, for example, Brenda Watson notes that recent agreed syllabuses have abandoned 'preoccupation with content in favour of concepts, skills and attitudes' and she promotes the concept of 'critical affirmation' - 'to all people in principle, to oneself, and to truth so far as it is discerned' (Watson 1987:55).

I believe the new syllabus is sound on this point. Despite the emphasis on content in the programmes of study, the syllabus implicitly - and often explicitly - acknowledges the importance of concepts, skills and attitudes: 'Pupils should be encouraged to develop sensitivity and respect for those who hold views and commitments different from their own' (Key Stage 4) is but one example of many.

Finally, there is the calling into question of radical empiricism itself, on which so much western thinking has been based and which has been taken so much for granted. 'Radical empiricism ... brings about an implicit identification of the real and worthwhile with the purely observable, and collapses into materialism ... it divorces the knower from what is known, and in positivism it explicitly relegates theology and ethics to the status of "non-sense"' (Thatcher 1990:79).

Schwab underlines this point by pointing out the changing nature of knowledge: 'The revisionary character of scientific knowledge accrues from the continuing assessment and modification of substantive structures' (Schwab 1964:266). The danger of a purely dogmatic, inculcative curriculum, Schwab suggests, is that unless pupils appreciate the limitations of the enquiry that produced the knowledge, they will be bewildered by revisions. On the other hand, if they are given freedom to speculate on the possible changes in structures, they will 'not only be prepared to meet future revisions with intelligence but will better understand the knowledge they are currently being taught' (Schwab 1964:267).

The syllabus acknowledges this debate about the changing nature of knowledge: it does not seek to inculcate any particular view and invites students to consider, for example, the difference between religious and scientific explanations, including such key concepts as 'belief', 'proof', the nature of evidence, 'miracle', 'coincidence' and 'natural law'.

Other educational concerns

Assessment, recording and reporting

One of the main concerns of educationalists about the National Curriculum and its attendant assessment procedures is that it reduces education to a process of imparting information or teaching skills which can be conveniently tested. Recent changes to the standard assessment tasks for seven year olds, for example, so that they become paper and pencil tests, are indicative of this process. There are two dangers here: first, that the testing becomes more important than the teaching and learning, and second - following on from that - the testing begins to control or direct what is taught or learned.

The central flaw in this model of education is that it assumes that only what is easily measurable is of value. I would suggest that the reverse is actually true, and that what is measurable and what is of value are at opposite ends of a spectrum. It is particularly important to recognise this in relation to religious education.

The rationale behind this flawed attitude to the curriculum and testing is undoubtedly the call for greater accountability of teachers and schools. 'Demands that teachers be more directly accountable to outside agencies can only encourage an emphasis on those aspects of their work that these agencies can best understand' (Blenkin and Kelly 1987:212).

Fortunately, the advice of the working parties on assessment, recording and reporting is firmly based on Westhill's 'Assessing, recording and reporting RE' which is based on sound educational theory.

Children's needs and interests

Should a curriculum be based on children's needs and interests and if so, to what extent does the syllabus provide a framework for such a curriculum? I believe that this is an important consideration, for, in my view, a curriculum based on something other than children's needs and interests will be one of two kinds: it will either be based on a rationalist view of knowledge or it will be utilitarian.

In his article The Project Method (1918) William Heard Kilpatrick, an American pedagogue who became a major figure in the progressive education movement of the early twentieth century, agued that:

There is no necessary conflict in kind between the social demands and the child's interests. Our whole fabric of institutional life grew out of human interests. The path of the race is here a possible path for the individual. There is no normal boy but has already many socially desirable interests and is capable of many more. It is the special duty and opportunity of the teacher to guide the pupil through his present interests and achievement into the wider interests and achievement demanded by the wider social life of the older world (Kilpatrick 1918:12).
Richard Pring regards Kilpatrick's work as of special importance because of the popularity of interest-based curriculum ideas, the good ethical reasons behind them, and because of what he regards as the inappropriateness of the alternatives. He identifies the ethical argument for such a curriculum as being the 'underlying theory of value reflected in the concern for the interests of the child' (Pring 1976:52), but he rejects the idea that it is possible to do away with a heirarchy of values. 'The child must come to see their value if they are to be valuable to him' (Pring 1976:55). His cognitive argument embraces an empiricist view of knowledge: 'The meaning (and thus the truth) of what is offered is proportionate to its meaningfulness for each pupil (and to its "working") for him' (Pring 1976:56). He rejects the critics' view that 'knowledge does ... somehow exist independently of individual knowers' (Pring 1976:56).

My concern is that there are aspects of the new syllabus which do not accord with these views. The programmes of study seem to begin appropriately enough with some reasonably child-centred statements such as 'pupils should have opportunities to show their appreciation of people important to them and to talk about occasions special to them' (Key Stage 1) but in the later stages we find statements such as 'pupils should be taught about the symbolic meanings present in, for example, religious rituals/actions, places of worship, festivals and dress.' (Key Stage 3) Now of course children may be interested in such things, but then again they may not. My concern is that there is a lack of choice here: the programmes of study will have statutory force, so there will be great pressure on teachers to make sure they 'cover' everything. Perhaps the best that can be said is that it will be the teacher's task to motivate children to find an interest in such things.

And what of children's needs? Do children 'need' to learn about religious dress? Superficially it would appear not, though I would argue that, in a multi-cultural and multifaith society this is indeed one small aspect of the needs of children if they are to become knowledgeable and thus sensitive members of that society. However, we must avoid falling into the trap of educating tomorrow's adults rather than today's children: 'A school ... is a community in which children learn to live first and foremost as children and not as future adults' (Plowden 1967:187).

A fundamental aspect of a curriculum based on children's needs and interests is that it acknowledges that children already have active minds. 'Don't forget that the child is a living thing, with thoughts and beliefs, hopes and choices, feelings and wishes; helping him with these must be what education is about, for there is nothing else to educate' (Pring 1976:51). Children bring much to school with them - their experiences, attitudes and aptitudes. To treat them as though they were slates on which to be written is not only an insult but is to do them, and the education we seek to provide, a grave disservice. 'Learning is, after all, an individual matter, in which essential idiosyncratic elements must be supplied by the learner himself' (Gagné 1971:page unknown, quoted in Beswick 1987:19). Compare these attitudes with that of Roger Scruton: 'They come to the teacher unformed, ignorant and distracted; their existence as citizens, and the rights and immunities which confer equality... lie at the end of the educational process and not at the beginning' (Scruton 1987:44).

Having worked with colleagues on the new syllabus for eighteen months now, there is no doubt in my mind that none of us had any intention of writing a syllabus which would accord with Scruton's view of children. The syllabus does acknowledge that they bring much that is their own to the learning process including their attitudes, beliefs and values: the purpose of the syllabus is to develop what already exists. However, there is much which does not make any such acknowledgement. The main headings of the programmes of study for Key Stage 2, for example, suggest that pupils should have the opportunity to study 'the main features and underlying themes of customs and festivals in Christianity and two other religions ... the main features of places of worship ... how people worship and celebrate ... the key beliefs of Christianity and at least two other religions ... the main events in the lives of key religious figures.'

There is not much here by way of overt acknowledgement of anything the pupils might bring to the subject. This is not to say that able teachers will not use the material in appropriate ways, drawing out from their pupils what is already there and seeking to build on it. It is just that a reading of the bald text gives no indication of such an approach and may therefore, unintentionally, lead teachers almost unaware into a type of phenomenology of which Roger Scruton might approve. I do not.

Another feature of child-centred curricula is their emphasis on discovery. The child starts from his/her own interest and extends his/her field of enquiry outwards. Plowden suggested that this method had proved to be more successful than being told and many teachers would argue that the experience of the past thirty years or so would back up Plowden's claim. In this respect it will again be for teachers to develop appropriate strategies: it should be quite possible to teach much of the syllabus using discovery methods, though the text lends itself equally to a transmission-style pedagogy.

Margaret Donaldson notes that children in the early years of school 'seem eager, lively, happy', whereas 'large numbers leave school with the bitter taste of defeat in them, not having mastered even moderately well those basic skills which society demands' (Donaldson 1978:13-14). Her view (and mine) is that the problem lies in the fact that, whereas primary schools base their work, to some extent at least, on children's needs and interests, in the high schools these receive less attention, while the needs of business and industry become predominant. Does this mean that we should investigate the possibilities for secondary education learning from the primary sector? Apparently not. 'There is pressure now for change at the lower end of the system. And there is a real danger that this pressure might lead to change that would be gravely retrogressive' (Donaldson 1978:14).

If those words were true in 1978, how much truer they are today! The Secretary of State (supported, regrettably, by the General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers) wants to promote a return to streaming and setting, to the 'three Rs' and, of course, to testing and the publication of test results. I hope we have produced a syllabus which could not be used to support such policies in relation to religious education.

Teacher control of the curriculum

My final concern is over the part teachers play in curriculum design and development. As the Plowden Report noted, teachers had had an increasing measure of control over the curriculum since the ending of the payment-byresults system in 1898 and the abandonment of the Elementary Code in 1926. This is not to suggest, however, that teachers made great use of this new freedom: 'The force of tradition and the inherent conservatism of all teaching professions made for a slow rate of change' (Plowden 1967:189). However, it is clear that teachers did have greater control over what was taught and how it was taught by the middle years of this century. Indeed, it came to be generally recognised that this was rightly their concern, so that the curriculum became known as 'the secret garden' into which others - even those directly concerned with educational provision - were not expected to stray.

There are four main reasons, I suggest, why this situation generally met with approval.

Firstly, education was increasingly seen as being concerned with the needs and interests of the individual child, and it is clearly only the teacher who is in a position to understand the needs of the individual: 'The curriculum consists of experiences [which] should be developed from learners' needs and characteristics ... a large measure of freedom for both teacher and learner is a necessary condition for education of this kind' (Kelly 1982:140).

Secondly, teachers have the classroom experience necessary for appropriate curriculum development. 'Curriculum research and development ought to belong to the teacher' (Stenhouse 1975:142).

Thirdly, schools must take their full share of responsibility for curriculum development if they are to be lively educational institutions. 'We cannot expect a school to be a vital centre of education if it is denied a role of self-determination and self-direction' (Skilbeck 1984:14).

And fourthly, schools have been shown to be the most stable institutions to undertake this important function. Many other bodies which over the years have been involved in curriculum initiatives no longer exist or have lost their independence: the Schools Council in the UK, regional laboratories and university research and development centres in the USA and the Australian Curriculum Development Centre are examples.

None of this is to suggest, however, that it was only teachers who had a say in curriculum development. There are many constraints and influences on schools - Skilbeck (1984:9) cites 'the views and preferences of parents, students, the employment market, the state's interest in responsible citizenship and those in higher and further education', to which I would add the examination system, local education authorities and, increasingly now, school governing bodies. I would agree, too, that teachers should not have total control: it would be quite unreasonable to expect either an individual teacher or a single school's staff to have the necessary breadth of expertise and experience to exercise such an awesome responsibility effectively.

Some writers have suggested that the teacher's control was never as powerful as has been widely believed. Lawton, for example, asserts that 'one of the myths about secondary education in England is that there is a long tradition of teacher control over the curriculum' (Lawton 1980:13). It does seem reasonable to suggest, however, that from the midforties to the mid-seventies, teachers collectively and individually had an increasingly powerful say in the curriculum and its development. In primary schools this was especially so with the demise of the eleven-plus. My own experience, as a primary teacher entering the profession just as this selection exam was being abolished, was of a feeling of enormous freedom and encouragement to experiment and innovate. Much of the Plowden Committee's Report seemed to legitimate this experimentation.

Does the new syllabus offer teachers this sort of freedom to devise an innovative, even experimental, religious education programme? I am concerned that it does not. As we have already seen, the 1988 Act's requirements and the Secretary of State's letter to Chief Education Officers have conspired to frighten syllabus writers into greater specificity. Of course there is scope for teachers to choose the methods and strategies they will employ in implementing the syllabus, but with the aims, attainment targets and statements - and an enormous bulk of content - pre-specified, I am anxious that there is little left for teachers other than to 'deliver' the curriculum: a concept I find worrying - and insulting. 'The curriculum ... is internal and organic to the institution, not an extrinsic imposition' (Skilbeck 1984:2).

The word 'delivery' seems to me to sum up the role of the teacher in the age of the National Curriculum, but, as Anne Sofer pointed out in The Times Educational Supplement (1 January 1988), 'Mr Baker should remember that the actual delivery of his curriculum will depend on a complex alchemy over which he has relatively little control.'

That complex alchemy may yet result in religious education which meets the needs of our children.


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