Page 1

Special showcase edition ISSN 0226-7738

The magazine for the Religious Education community

Autumn 2014 Volume 32 Number 1 ISSN 0226-7738

The magazine for the Religious Education community

Spring 2015 Volume 32 Number 2 ISSN 0226-7738

The magazine for the Religious Education community


RE: Reviving and Thriving



Summer 2015 Volume 32 Number 3

Summer 2014

Special Edition ISSN 0226-7738

ISSN 0226-7738

The magazine for the Religious Education community


The Last Drop Mercure Hotel & Spa, Bolton

9In–this10 issueMay 2015 Peter Tatchell Start: Saturday 10.45am Professional What’s the on equal love REflection: problem? Finish: Sunday 3pm Sin, suffering and Bill Gent introduces ... Al Murray:

the problems of RE analysed (and solved?)

The Pub Landlord on the Golden Rule

a selection of articles, reviews and perspectives to interest and challenge

£160 also…


ve o n, Incluacsicommodatfuioll 25+ , lities, meals ideas all classroom a faci ence pack ready try for primary er e ofto sp nf us co om and secondary mme, RE oads fr progra eb downl aders. and w rs and le speake

In this issue

Alan Bennett:


The wisdom of fairness

different views on what’s wrong with humanity

Mick Waters on the future of the curriculum

Professor Dan Cohn-Sherbok: on religious dialogue Rabbi Jonathan Romain: Why plurality matters

Professional REflection: Bill Gent introduces ... a rich assembly of articles, reviews and commonplace thoughts to interest and stimulate reflection


In this issue


Sara Pascoe:

classroom ideas primary and secondary, ready to try

‘RE is a fantastic tool’

What do religions and worldviews say about wisdom and where to find it?


A chanceProfessional to be inspired and revived REflection amongst fellow teachers of RE. In a formerly fun and exciting environment, share REsource experiences, meet new people, talk through the ideas that will help you flourish in the classroom.

“The event has been amazing experience. I have learned heaps, been given great ideas to use and loads of ideas to integrate into everyday teaching”

The journal of NATRE

Gervase Phinn: Why RE’s valuable

Bill Gent introduces ... a selection of articles, reviews and perspectives to interest and challenge


In this issue


classroom ideas, primary and secondary, ready to try


different views on values in religions

The Values and RE issue


“It was invaluable to be able to reflect critically on the activity and content of our school away from the day to day pressures of school life”

Professional REflection:

Alain de Botton

Why Richard Dawkins is the best argument for the existence of God

Russell Brand

on ‘Why I am not a Christian’

Persona dolls, making RE more playful and new media

also… The power of religious words Jonathan Sacks on ‘The voice of silence’


classroom ideas


Professional reflection

(formerly REsource)

Delegates at ‘Inspiring RE’ NATRE North of England Conference in 2013.

Generously supported by:


*Discount for Academy Consortia / SACREs etc: book three places together for teachers from the same SACRE area for just £395



For more information visit or call 0121 472 4242


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Bookings close: March 31st 2015

Spring 2016 Volume 33 Number 2

Summer 2016 Volume 33 Number 3

Autumn 2016 Volume 34 Number 1

ISSN 0226-7738

ISSN 0226-7738

ISSN 0226-7738

ISSN 0226-7738

The magazine for the Religious Education community

The magazine for the Religious Education community

In this issue

Wisdom, ancient and modern: practical new writing from over a dozen classroom teachers

Theme: The Devil and all his works

The magazine for the Religious Education community

Professional REflection: Theory and Practice What is meant by ‘religious understanding’? Outstanding leadership for outstanding SMSC

In this issue

Robin Richardson: Learning to live together

‘The Devil and all his works …’

Jean Vanier and L’Arche Reducing evil

Professional REflection:

Professor Linda Woodhead on the future of religion in education

Bill Gent introduces ... articles by Alan Brine, Linda Woodhead and Charles Clarke

C.S. Lewis’s demon Uncle Screwtape writes again

The journal of NATRE

In this issue Perspectives on wisdom from seven different religions and beliefs

also …

Queen Elizabeth: example of faith?

classroom ideas about Wisdom for your pupils

Over 30

Sing your own song: music, religion and identity

Over 30

Professional REflection: Diversity, hermeneutics and learning about death

Perspectives on song from five different religions and beliefs

Packed with

over 30

Theme: Sing your own song

can spiritual healing be conned?

Research, pedagogy and sociology of religion

on liberty, religion and belief Perspectives on religion and the mind from five different religions and beliefs

Packed with over 30 RE classroom ideas for your pupils, plus ideas from 12 classrooms around the country

Theme: Religion: all in the mind?

Pedagogy with Vivienne Baumfi eld Baumfield

In this issue

• Linda Woodhead


• David Suchet

grime and grace

and 25 classroom teachers

Spring 2018 Volume 35 Number 2

Summer 2018 Volume 35 Number 3

ISSN 0226-7738

ISSN 0226-7738

ISSN 0226-7738

The magazine for the Religious Education community


Professional REflection: REfl ection: The journal of NATRE

• Rowan Williams Perspectives on ‘attack and defend’ from six different religions and beliefs

Derren Brown:

Autumn 2017 Volume 35 Number 1

The magazine for the Religious Education community

RE classroom ideas for your pupils, plus ideas from:

The journal of NATRE

Learning, challenging students and understanding Islam


Is religion under attack? Does humanism need defending? Can RE defend itself better?

• Martyn Joseph

In this issue

classroom ideas for your pupils on goodness and evil in religion and life

The magazine for the Religious Education community

Professional REflection:

• Jonathan Sacks

The journal of NATRE

also …

ISSN 0226-7738

Attack and defend:

• Robert Winston

Shami Chakrabarti

Professional REflection:

classroom ideas for your pupils, plus viewpoints from

The journal of NATRE

Over 30

Summer 2017 Volume 34 Number 3

In this issue

The magazine for the Religious Education community

also …

The journal of NATRE

Theme: Wisdom, Ancient and Modern

2 R E B M U N | 3 3 E M UL O V

Spring 2017 Volume 34 Number 2

Ed Pawson on ‘Worldview Studies’ Believing, belonging and behaving

Packed with

• Anthony Thiselton on theology and philosophy for 16–19s

over 30

RE classroom ideas for your pupils Five perspectives on the best of diff different erent religions and beliefs

• MP Dennis Skinner goes to primary school fiction, • Music, fi ction, visits, art and photography in RE

In this issue

Faith in science? Faith in God?

• David Cornick: Reformation 500

Michael Morpurgo

In this issue

Brian Cox:

talks about the power of story in a divided world

Two paths to truth?

Professional REflection: The journal of NATRE

Professional REflection:

Theme: Attack and defend


‘The best that has been thought and said [in religion]’

Packed with

The journal of NATRE

RE classroom ideas for your pupils

Packed with

Four perspectives

over 30

on telling stories from different religions and beliefs

RE classroom ideas for your pupils

Five perspectives

Can hermeneutics

on science and faith from different religions and beliefs

be of benefit to RE? Anthony Thiselton considers the opportunities

Doctor Alvin Plantinga

Tackling creation

on the rationality of religion

myths in the primary classroom

Creation stories

David Lambourn

with infants: doing it well!

Reason, rationality and religion: VOLUME 35

debates and questions


Reactions to the Commission on RE report


Telling stories

asks if reading the Gospel of Mark as if it were fiction can deepen understanding in the secondary classroom

What can RE learn

from the insights of social psychology? Find out in Professional REflection

A big step up for your RE in a single day At RE Today, we believe we have a great way of lifting a whole school’s ambition and achievement in RE through whole-school professional development, often through clusters of school, multi-academy trusts and other networks of schools. RE subject leaders often take a day of training themselves and wish their colleagues could access it as well. Our adviser team means this can happen. Here are four examples of recent cases where standards – academic, creative and spiritual – have been raised across a school by well-planned INSET. Could your school host a cluster day for all staff to improve RE? It can be very good value if a crowd of 50 or 100 teachers are all involved together.

Derby City: Community school, 100 teachers, better RE Hardwick Primary school in Derby, serves a large Muslim pupil population in a religiously mixed community. The school wanted to help teachers with their subject knowledge: many were feeling short of confidence in teaching Islam, and Christianity, with their new Derby City syllabus. Subject leader Rani Sandhu wanted to give teachers confidence to improve active learning and thinking in RE, so she worked with an RE Today adviser, invited four other local schools and put together a teacher day program for early September, hoping to kickstart RE for the year to come. She comments ‘it was really good to see teachers and TAs for all our local schools getting inspired and full of ideas for RE.’ Rani reported that a term later the impact was high: teachers had improved links to SMSC, had a good understanding of the new RE syllabus and assessment system, enjoyed having an engaging speaker who related to the school audience really well and were pursuing good collaborative work with other schools.

North Cumbria: Academies at it together for better RE An RE Today adviser worked with a Multi-Academy Trust in north Cumbria to promote teachers’ understanding and practice in relation to RE, British Values, SMSCD and assessment. Subject leaders from 20 schools spent 2 separate days working together with dozens of practical ideas to inspire and energise them. The outcomes included a clearer understanding of how RE can support cross curricular work and spiritual and moral development in local schools of different types.

Brighton: A Diocesan Deanery Day for 90 teachers Brighton Head Teacher Carmel Hughes wanted her teachers to work with colleagues from other local Catholic schools, so with an RE adviser she planned a whole-day event just before a halfterm holiday. It was hosted by the local secondary school, and was attended by 90 teachers from 10 different primary schools. Economies of scale kept the cost per school low, and the planned program addressed issues about making RE more thoughtful, more spiritual and more creative in its learning methods. Lunch together was great, but the program was rated excellent by over 90 per cent of the teachers, who felt they had gained great confidence and inspiration from the event. Afterwards, Carmel commented: ‘It was a wonderful day and I am so pleased at last that teachers got to participate in RE INSET that energised them all. As headteachers, we are privileged to be able to attend such inspirational days and now our staff have too!’

Time for your school to book some RE INSET? • Do you need all staff to be more confident and secure in their RE work? • Could you host a group of schools for a clustered training day (primary or secondary)? • Would your head and governors value top-quality inspirational teaching and learning training? Contact the RE Today adviser team for details – don’t delay, as we usually book up 6–12 months in advance. Email Chelsey Miller-Brown for details:


Showcasing excellent RE and support for all key stages Welcome to this special showcase issue of REtoday magazine. We give it away free to show you the excellent support REtoday magazine brings to the classroom and members of NATRE. Published at the start of each term, REtoday provides excellent RE and support materials for early years, primary and secondary education. We have some great thinking by 5-year-olds here. And some from older writers as well. I like the cover: in REtoday you might get Brian Cox, the pub landlord, Alan Bennett, Stormzy, Sarah Pascoe, Jesus or the devil. We try every term to bring you great writing about religion and education, with the strongest classroom focus you can imagine. RE is very hard to teach well: in a country like the UK which is simultaneously in some ways plural, secular and Christian, young people need an RE that talks about all kinds of religions and beliefs, to help with questions of life as well as with GCSE Religious Studies. However, teachers can be short of confidence. So for over 35 years, this magazine has been providing practical classroom ideas, thoughtful reflections on good practice and information for busy teachers. As the latest editor of REtoday, I’m proud to be associated with a long tradition of excellent service to teachers in RE, and hope to continue it. In these few pages (a full termly issue is approximately 100 pages) you will find articles about working in RE from the early years to 19-year-olds on developing

Lat Blaylock, Editor

skills, deepening knowledge and opening minds, from Muslim, Christian, atheist and many other perspectives. We’ve chosen what is typical of what you will find in the magazine every term. NATRE members get access to our online members’ area, where over 1,000 downloadable classroom and school materials are stored. Each term’s issue of REtoday has a theme: recently these have included ‘The devil and all his works’, ‘Prayer: what’s the point?’, values (including British Values) and ‘Faith in science? Faith in God?’ We intend always to provide our readers with something to teach straight away, something to think about as a professional and some material to grow your own understanding of the different religions and beliefs.

A gift from NATRE

Leaf through and discover what the magazine offers, and consider whether you might like to be an REtoday writer too. Many of our articles are simply reports by teachers of RE on what is working well. We usually find these are the most popular: teacher to teacher, good ideas and advice are always welcome. Contact me if this idea appeals to you. And even if it doesn’t, I hope you enjoy our showcase edition.

We love our members! They allow us to do what we do: lobbying parliament, raising the profile of our subject and, in collaboration with RE Today, producing high-quality resources to support and equip teachers of RE. Our membership offers hundreds of resources, CPD opportunities and discounts as well as regular updates on the world of RE.

We’ve set up an exclusive showcase download area for you to access additional resources that go alongside the articles included in this magazine. Did you know you can also access hundreds more resources for free on our website? Take a look!

We hope you’ll join us and we look forward to welcoming you soon! Best wishes,

NATRE xx Username/number: 201819 Password: Showcase!1819




Editor Lat Blaylock

Publications Manager


Nick Clarke


3 Showcasing excellent RE and support for all key stages Lat Blaylock

Publishing dates Published three times a year, in September, January and April

For the staffroom and senior leaders

Published by Christian Education Publications

6 Ten reasons why school leaders should stand up for RE Lat Blaylock

Annual NATRE membership starts from £75. For details please visit uk, or call 0121 458 3313 or email

RE Today Services

12 Ten ways governors can help RE Lat Blaylock

5-6 Imperial Court 12 Sovereign Road Birmingham West Midlands B30 3FH

15 A Humanist view Lisa O’Connor

Editorial and advertising policy


Articles in REtoday will reflect a variety of viewpoints and should not be taken as statements of RE Today Services policy. Advertisements in REtoday and advertising material inserted into RE Today mailings may reflect the entire range of goods and services offered to RE teachers, and the presence of such advertising material does not imply endorsement of the product by RE Today Services.


28 RE at the synagogue and the mosque (5–11) Victoria McDowell

32 The stories we tell ourselves: three examples to address preconceptions and assumptions (11–14) Kate Christopher

14 What should be the RE subject content for under 5s?

Two paths to truth?



26 Developing critical thinking in primary RE (5–11) Naomi Anstice

10 Stormzy: Grime and grace

5 Singing and learning in RE: music matters (5–11) Libby Taylor

Environmentally friendly print Printed using vegetable inks and sustainably sourced paper.

24 The angel’s message: learning from Islam, thinking for ourselves (4–11) Abi Blaylock

30 The langar on the street (7–16)

For the classroom

22 Using faith stories: ten great ideas (4–11)

8 Two paths to truth? Brian Cox

16 Fight prejudice with the most fantastic tool we have: RE Sara Pascoe

Design and layout

20 Multisensory RE for special pupils (SEN) Jinny Morgan Lewtas

Fight prejudice with the most fantastic tool we have: RE

34 What is religion? (11–16) Kate Christopher and Jane Halsall 36 Hindu traditions, community and spirituality (11–16) Amrat Bava

Instant RE 38 Tackling Islamophobia Emma Newby


Multisensory RE for special pupils

For the classroom 5–11

: E R n i g n i n lear

s d r n a e t t a Singing sic m mu

Crowds of creative children flocked to Northumberland CE Academy for a day to attend a fun-packed and thought-provoking musical conference. Year 4 and 5 pupils from seven primary and first schools near the academy attended the event run by Stephen Fischbacher of Fischy Music and Lat Blaylock of RE Today. Stephen’s excellent method of teaching enabled the children to learn at least six songs throughout the day. Some even wrote new verses that we all learnt there and then. Teaching activities opened up creative thinking and responses, linked to the RE themes, and all the schools mixed and shared ideas. The teachers even stepped up to be interviewed as part of the creative process. Staff were particularly pleased that within the fun, the children had a chance to think more deeply about creation, their worries and being stronger.

‘It was brilliant. Are we doing this every Thursday?’ Matthew, Year 4

Children and staff had a great day and we’re making sure we have Fischy Music available in school so everyone can join in. The linking of music and religion happens in many ways, in many faiths, so why not in RE too? We sang about the journey of life, big questions, the stories of Jesus, the experience of times of trouble and the beauty of the natural world. Children could choose a piece of work to do about the songs they liked best, reflecting in writing and discussion the themes of the songs.

Fischy Music makes for thoughtful RE in relation to God, big questions and the journey of life

Bringing eight schools together is a particularly effective use of a day: all the pupils went back to their own schools determined to try out the ideas and songs with the rest of their classes.

‘I can’t stop singing “Big, Big Questions”! That was my favourite.’ Holly, Year 4

Interested in a day like this? Contact the Editor:

Stephen Fischbacher sings 'Big Questions' with pupils in Leicestershire

Libby Taylor, The Northumberland Church of England Academy

Sign language makes songs accessible to all in Fischy Music workshops 5

For the staffroom and senior leaders

Ten reasons why school leaders should stand up for RE I think that RE never grows as strong as it can without significant support from senior staff in every school. Here’s my view of the top ten reasons why they should. Share this article with your staff and senior leadership team to help build the status of RE in your school.  he law says … RE is a legal requirement for every pupil on T the school roll in each year group. This is the least important of the ten reasons, so let’s get it out of the way first. Since 1944, all state-funded schools, including free schools and academies, have always been required to provide RE for all pupils, 4–19. No head teacher wants to break the law: it is also against the ‘British Value’ of the rule of law to do so!  E reaches where other subjects don’t. Schools are to R provide opportunities for spiritual and moral development for every pupil. This can happen in any subject, but it comes into focus in RE. Pupils’ personal issues – some around self esteem, mental health or identity, others around positive psychology, well-being and happiness – can also be explored and addressed in relation to how religions offer support to their followers in RE. Old adverts for Heineken beer said it ‘refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach’. See RE as the Heineken subject of the curriculum. It can be more than academic. RE contributes to the ‘broad and balanced’ curriculum in which Ofsted is currently so interested. NATRE monitors this: see re-in-ofsted-reports/  aying ‘no’ to racism and ‘yes’ to diversity. Schools are S right to be concerned about ‘racism on the rise’ in the UK, and to consider carefully what can be done in the curriculum to build an egalitarian shared future for all of the UK’s people. RE has been making a unique contribution to anti-racist and multicultural education for decades. There are two


key ways this happens. First, by countering prejudice with knowledge: if, for example, you know a lot about the Muslim ‘one in twenty’ presence in the UK population, then ignorant prejudice is undermined. Secondly, RE notices and studies the fact that all religions (and Humanism) promote a shared duty of care to all humanity – you can find versions of the Golden Rule in all scriptures. Of course, religious and non-religious people often fail to live up to these high ideals of universal compassion. RE studies that ‘hypocrisy gap’ as well. The government is very interested in this aspect of RE, for which NATRE provides resources: the-shared-space-project/ Big questions for big thinkers. RE makes pupils think. The subject’s concern for big questions, for engaging with meaning, purpose and truth, is often really popular with pupils. RE is a great vehicle for using methods such as Philosophy for Children (P4C). Thinking skills, discussion and debate, working with dilemmas and problem solving make great RE lessons when questions such as these are approached: Who am I? Where do I fit in? What matters most? Why do we get distracted from what matters most so easily? What will give us courage for life, and what for death? Can we be happy alone? Together? With God? Is God real, and if so where can God be found? What is the meaning of life? How shall we live for goodness and justice? The recent directions of RE are towards ‘big spiritual questions’ rather than ‘little religious facts’.

For the staffroom and senior leaders

 reat RE opens up great creativity. Some of the best RE G happens on the frontiers with dance, drama, poetry, art and creativity. No school wants its creative curriculum to be squeezed to death, but current pressures to do, it seems, ever more maths and English, make imaginative space in school hard to defend. Link RE to the creative arts because this is what religions do – from the architecture of mosques to the literature of the Ramayana and the music of Handel, religions are creative. RE should be too. The annual NATRE ‘Art in Heaven’ competition is evidence and opportunity for your pupils to get involved. Details and a gallery of 1,000 works of children’s art are available here: spirited-arts-gallery/2017/  ive British Values. Michael Gove (remember him?) left a F legacy as he departed from the Department for Education: the requirement to actively promote British Values was inserted into the Ofsted framework. RE has been making a unique contribution to getting pupils thinking about tolerance and respect for decades, and the RE curriculum often looks at questions about fairness or the rule of law; human freedom, individual liberty and democracy; and the idea that we all count and we all deserve a say in what happens in our communities. Where RE is good, then the British Values work of a school is often enhanced through a subtle exploration of values, including ‘Gove’s Big Five British Values’.

Victoria Bishop, Assistant Head at St Nicolas and St Mary CE Primary School, Shoreham, says: ‘In a busy and often confusing world, RE equips children to develop greater understanding of different faiths and beliefs and also offers the chance to find their own spirituality.’  eligion: global hi-vis! Maybe in the UK’s recent history, R religion had a period of invisibility and decline in the 1970s and 80s. But in recent years, faith has put on a neon green jacket and features daily, for good or ill, in national and global news. RE has never been more relevant to your pupils, because the world beyond school gives increasing visibility to religions and often to conflict within and between them. The new argument for religious literacy is that Marx’s prediction that religion would ‘wither on the vine’ doesn’t seem to have come true. Religious decline in the UK is unusual: globally, both Christianity and Islam have each pretty well doubled in size in the last 50 years. Do your pupils need to understand the modern world? Then they have to understand religion.

 he opposite of brainwashing: RE is for atheists, the T ‘spiritual but not religious’ (SNBR) and believers alike. RE is inclusive of all worldviews. If back in 1944, over 70 years ago, the subject was all about Christianity, today it is the most open-minded of studies, where all arguments, all reasons and all religions and beliefs are on the table, subject to scrutiny, open to question. Some people try to suggest RE is indoctrination or brainwashing. It is the opposite. RE is where any belief, any view of the world, can be appreciated for what it is, but also appraised for its weaknesses too. Maybe that is why Humanists UK are such keen supporters of the subject – it is where pupils are most likely to encounter Humanists, after all. Maybe that is why pupils who see themselves as SBNR often love RE for the exploratory and discovery learning it offers. RE’s life skill: learning to disagree respectfully. Different subjects of the curriculum offer pupils different life skills. Maths means you can check your money accurately. French will help you on your holidays, or maybe at work too. RE’s life skill is disagreeing respectfully. Some people disagree with others by ridiculing them, punching them or starting a war against them. RE teaches pupils that we are all different, but all valuable, and the only way forward is to respect the differences. Good RE never ducks the big issues: is there a God? People disagree. Should we forgive any wrong? People disagree. When we die, will we live on in another life? People disagree. Instead, in good RE, children learn from the start that disagreement might be interesting and educative, and doesn’t have to cause a fight or create an enemy. We will not all agree, but we can live in harmony.  upils love great RE. Where RE has the characteristics P described above, the pupils love it. They say, ‘I like the discussions/dilemmas/debates’. They report, ‘It’s really good to know more about other people’s religions/my own religion’. They think, ‘It’s interesting – and important – to think about the biggest questions of life’. To see them saying this, watch NATRE’s short film on what pupils think of RE:

Are you a senior school leader? Does RE need your help? If these ten opportunities could be delivered in every school, then RE would fulfil its potential. But some schools are yet to notice the gains and benefits of contemporary RE. It isn’t easy to find specialist or expert teachers and time in the curriculum to do all this, but it is worth trying. NATRE promotes great RE to all stakeholders. If you are a chair of governors, or a school leader, and you want some more of this kind of RE in your school, then contact us for further help. Don’t leave your pupils ignorant. Teach them to disagree respectfully, to be reasonable about beliefs and to think for themselves about life’s biggest issues. Teach them RE.

 Lat Blaylock, Editor, REtoday magazine / 7


Two paths to truth? Professor Brian Cox has called for believers and non-believing scientists to acknowledge each other’s contributions to human beings’ search for meaning, and to avoid ‘toxic’ dismissals of different worldviews.

Professor Brian Cox is a physicist from the University of Manchester with a high public profile thanks to his popular TV science documentaries. He was interviewed at a Diocese of Leeds clergy conference where he shared a platform with Professor David Wilkinson. Professor Cox said that while he had no personal faith, he rejected the label of ‘atheist’ because he refused to be ‘pigeon-holed’. In his address he spoke of cutting-edge theories of multiple or even infinite universes, and the implication of these theories for the quest for meaning. He said faith and science do not have to be in opposition. He quoted the Belgian priest and professor of physics Georges Lemaître, who proposed the theory of the expansion of the Universe, saying: ‘There are two paths to truth and I decided to follow both of them’.

If you really want to understand how a blade of grass works, the only way you’re going to do it is by doing science. You won’t do it by contemplating it. In an interview for the diocese’s website, Professor Cox spoke of the multiverse theory, which postulates many different universes. He said: ‘If that turns out to be correct – and this is right at the edge of our current understanding – but let’s say it turns out that there are an infinite number of universes, so all possibilities of the mixtures of the laws of nature exist, and in some universes there’ll be stars and galaxies, in others there won’t, what does that mean? ‘Well, meaning is something that scientists alone are not qualified to extract from the world. This is where art and music and philosophy and theology live, and not only have a role to play but are an essential part of our discussion – what do these discoveries that we make mean? How are we to respond to them as human beings?’



Let’s say it turns out that there are an infinite number of universes, so all possibilities of the mixtures of the laws of nature exist, and in some universes there’ll be stars and galaxies, in others there won’t, what does that mean? Priest and cosmologist Georges Lemaître (1894–1966) was a Belgian astronomer and cosmologist who formulated the modern Big Bang theory, which holds that the Universe began in a cataclysmic explosion of a small, primeval ‘super-atom’.

Everyone tells creation stories He said that exploring such questions was ‘part of the tradition of the Church, part of the tradition of different religious beliefs across the world’. Creation stories are ‘common across every culture and every geographical corner of the world. Where you find human beings you find creation stories, so that tells you something about what it means to be human.’ He hit out at the ‘polarisation of debate’ in today’s society between people of different worldviews. ‘You see it in politics, you see it in the interaction between religions, and you see it in the interaction between religion and the secular world, you see it all over the place.’

Don’t live in a ghetto: be open to all ideas ‘There seems to be a driving apart of people with different views and a ghettoisation of different worldviews. The analogy I would draw is with a multi-party democracy ... That implies that you accept and celebrate the fact that there are people with whom you disagree. This idea that “there’s this lot over here and this lot over here and we disagree” and it gets more and more ghettoised, and we get a louder argument, is toxic. ‘So for me, the idea I would be able to have an entertaining and enjoyable afternoon discussing with people with whom I suppose I have to say I disagree at the most fundamental level, because I don’t have a particular faith, or any faith in fact – however, I think that difference of opinion and view of the world is to be celebrated and explored.’

Ignorant explorers all There was, he said, ‘no room for dogmatic positions’ in science. ‘I think the fundamental principle in science is that we start from a fundamental position of ignorance. And that means we take delight in being shown to be wrong, and furthermore we do not assume that we’re right.’ Professor Cox said he rarely considered religion except when he was asked about it, but said: ‘I don’t class myself as an atheist – I hate the label, partly because of what I’ve just said – I don’t like the ghettoisation of thought and worldview, I think it’s entirely toxic.’

The wonder of the Universe Asked to define the idea of ‘wonder’, he said: ‘Wonder is noticing that there’s something beautiful and worth exploring about nature, and that’s the act of wonder, and then you go off to explore it in whatever way you choose. ‘If you really want to understand how a blade of grass works, the only way you’re going to do it is by doing science. You won’t do it by contemplating it. But there are responses to the Universe – a piece of art is a response, music is a response, theology and philosophy are responses, but the initial act of being interested and noticing something that’s worth exploring is what I would define as wonder, and that’s common.’

He was a civil engineer who served as an artillery officer in the Belgian Army during the First World War. After the war he entered a seminary and in 1923 was ordained a priest. He studied at the University of Cambridge’s solar physics laboratory (1923–24). From 1925 he worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he studied the findings of the American astronomers Edwin P. Hubble and Harlow Shapley on the expanding Universe. In 1927, the year he became professor of astrophysics at the Catholic University of Leuven (Louvain), he proposed his Big Bang theory. Lemaître’s theory, with some modifications, has become the leading theory of cosmology.

Questions • Would you describe Brian Cox as an atheist? What kinds of atheists have you noticed? • Consider the sentence, ‘Debate is better if it is subtle, not polarised.’ What does this mean? Do you agree? • Which ‘path to truth’ do you follow: science, faith or another path? • Can someone follow two paths to truth?

Visit the exclusive showcase download area to access additional resources to support this article.

Original interview by the Diocese of Leeds. See the full video at



Stormzy: grime and grace South London grime artist Stormzy has a debut album called Gang Signs & Prayer. It was the first grime album in history to reach number 1. This is an edited version of Miranda Sawyer’s Guardian article about her interview with him, and explores his beliefs and spirituality. Teachers using this interview with pupils should consider whether any of the strong language is inappropriate for their classes. I meet Stormzy in a beautifully appointed recording studio in a chi-chi area of London. He stands out, but then he would anywhere. Stormzy, real name Michael Omari Jr, is a can’t-hide 6ft 5in in his trackie bottoms, black socks and slides. Stormzy makes music, mostly grime, and in his YouTube videos he towers over his crew, dominates the frame like a giant.

‘It’s about God,’ he says. ‘One of the things that I’m most impressed by, in God, is the grace that He has. No matter what we do, there’s always this, “OK, it’s fine. I understand.” That’s not to say I can go out and do something bad … But just that knowing that someone’s got you throughout anything, and they’re not going to judge you, they’re just going to understand your situation. That’s grace.’

There’s a cheekiness to Stormzy: he is friendly and engaged. When the tickets for his March–May 2017 UK tour went on sale the two shows in Brixton, London, sold out in seven minutes (he adds another date; it sells out too); within 12 hours, nine more venues, from Belfast to Birmingham, have no tickets left.

Stormzy’s first memory is of ‘Sunday, going to church’: his mum, Abigail Owuo (she appears in the video for ‘Know Me From’), was a parishioner of a Pentecostal chapel in Streatham. ‘It was just what you did on a Sunday,’ he says. He has a strong faith, but he admits that he lost his way for a time. ‘I was a good boy in primary, but then I was a bad boy.’

Stormzy’s climb has been rapid. When Kanye brought the UK’s biggest grime stars on stage at the Brits 2015, Stormzy was there. He won Mobos for best male and best grime act that year. In Christmas 2016, he grabbed himself a number 8 by rereleasing his YouTube track ‘Shut Up’. Making an album is not easy, especially not for one-man-and-hismic grime artists. Stormzy, who is far from just that, chose to join forces with Fraser T. Smith, a Grammy-winning producer known for his work with Adele. The album took them ten months from start to finish.

God, grace and church on Sunday We talk through each track. There are 13 tracks on there, plus a few extra bits, and as Stormzy goes through them, he talks of vulnerability, uses words such as ‘pure’, ‘touching’ and ‘reflective’ as well as ‘explicit’, ‘raw’ and ‘horrible’. Sonically, there’s R&B in the mix, afrobeat, a gospel choir, live strings … There are definitely a few bangers: ‘Shut Up’ and ‘Big for Your Boots’ are on there. This isn’t a simple album. The subject matter isn’t as straightforward as you might imagine. A track called ‘100 Bags’ sounds like it’s about drugs or money but is, instead, a ‘sad tribute’. When I try to guess what ‘BBYG Part 1’ might stand for (I say embarrassing things like ‘Better Bring Your Gun’), Stormzy says no: it’s ‘Blinded By Your Grace’.


Family and the whirlwind of emotions The last track of the album, ‘Lay Me Bare’, gives a few hints as to why. Stormzy calls it a ‘whirlwind of emotions’, and it moves between resignedness, intimacy, regret and anger. The anger is mostly directed at his dad, who wasn’t around at all when he grew up. Father to young Michael and his two older sisters, Stormzy’s dad worked as a cabbie in Croydon. The few times Stormzy had contact with him was when he asked his mum for money and she gave him his dad’s number and told him to text him. ‘And I remember going to the cab office and picking up an envelope and there being £20 in it. That happened twice. At the time, I thought, “Oh, £20, I’m good.” But now I’m thinking … mad. I’m not bitter towards him, it’s more, “I can’t respect you as a man”. Because now I’m a man. And even if I was the shittest prick on Earth and I had a child … I think, “You didn’t even do the bare minimum. You didn’t even get me a birthday card.”’ He says: ‘This album is good, this is incredible, this is heartfelt, this has been put together so well, so strategically, so neatly, so creatively.’ Stormzy grew up near Croydon, with his mum, two sisters and a younger brother. His home life wasn’t unhappy, but it wasn’t cosy.


‘I think my home reminded me of the poverty I was in,’ he says. ‘We had a small house, it wasn’t the best of houses, not in the best condition, and … it wasn’t comfortable for me to be there and just chillin’. I would go to my friends’ houses and they had these nice, beautiful houses, and with my house I felt none of that. So I was always out, doing things to get money.’ He did well at school until after his GCSEs. He was smart, so he could mess around and still ace exams. ‘I always figured out how to play the borderline,’ he says. ‘I was as horrible and as menacing and as troublesome, as annoying as I could be. Just playing that line of “you can’t really expel me”.’ And though he was suspended, on occasion, he wasn’t expelled until he went to sixth form. The school he was at, Stanley Tech, wasn’t a good one, and, when he was in Year 10, it was taken over to become a Harris Academy. Harris schools are known for their discipline. From his school year, and the one above, he knows around four or five boys who are in prison for murder. Yet he and most of his friends weren’t what he would call real gangsters: ‘You’re not going to knock on someone’s door and put a bullet in their head. A lot of these kids haven’t got that in them, as 95 per cent of humans don’t, because you’re a human. There are a lot of good kids caught up in it.’

last year). But actually, he says, though he thinks internationally in terms of his art, when it comes to his political message, he stays closer to home. ‘The main thing with me is my young black kings,’ he says. ‘And this ain’t to ostracise young black women or old white men, or Asians, it’s not to ostracise anyone, it’s just to say, “OK, young black men in my country, when it comes to who is going to achieve, you are always the very last.” So I need to talk to my young black kings, because I’m one of you, we who are always last. And I say to them, “You can do this. You’re better than anything anyone’s ever told you that you are. You’re just as powerful as me. You can be just as creative and as incredible and as amazing as me, Kanye West, Drake, Frank Ocean, all these people that you see. You can do that.” ‘And that message is big: hopefully I’m going to connect with the person who one day is the political rival of Trump.’ Stormzy thinks big, but he doesn’t forget his small start. Visit the exclusive showcase download area to access additional resources to support this article.

Image by Geoffrey Robinson / Alamy Stock Photo

‘We always had the family tightness of “We’ve got each other no matter what”,’ he recalls.

A different course in life When he was 19, Stormzy changed. He can’t pinpoint an incident that made him alter his course, but he knows why he did. ‘Somewhere along the line, I figured out that this isn’t a logical option. I realised that being on the streets is very bad for business, very bad for going forward in life, and very bad for success – and success has always been the biggest thing for me.’ Everyone has a different idea of success, of course; and for a while, he followed his mum’s dreams. After college, he got on to an apprentice course and ended up as a project manager at an engineering firm, working on an oil refinery off the south coast. But it didn’t fit. He thought hard and realised that he wanted to try music. For a while, he combined the two: writing while he was working, calling in sick because he had a radio gig. But eventually, the pull of music became too big and he quit. He likes his independence, because he enjoys being involved in every aspect of his career. ‘I always say an artist, a musician, is like a car,’ he says. ‘And cool, you’re the engine and you’ve got all these ideas. But someone has to do the alloys, someone has to make sure the tyres are up, someone’s got to make sure the boot’s working, someone’s got to do the air con, all these little things.’ If you want to be an internationally known artist, you have to think about the international environment. And ‘Shut Up’ was released into a world that was different from today’s; post-Brexit, postTrump. Stormzy has expressed support for Black Lives Matter in the US (‘I’m not going to wait until something happens to me or my loved ones before I speak out about it,’ he said to i-D’s Hattie Collins


For the staffroom and senior leaders

Ten ways governors can help RE Lat Blaylock, Editor of REtoday, writes here an article that you might like to copy to your governors.

Lat Blaylock

If governors want better RE in their school, then here are ten questions to think about at school leadership level. 1. Is our school already good at RE, or does the subject come tenth out of ten for our teachers? Primary RE is a mixed bag across the country. Good schools give it a fair budget, time slot and priority, and all classes learn how to understand religions and beliefs, how to disagree respectfully and how to express their own beliefs and values with increasing clarity. But in bad RE there is little or no time, money or interest. Children keep on making Diwali cards and hearing about a Good Samaritan, but make poor progress. Ask: where are we on the spectrum of provision? How would we know? Is this something that is discussed in full governors’ meetings or at a curriculum meeting? Do we look at this on learning walks?

2. Are our teachers confident in handling different religions and beliefs? Many primary teachers are anxious about RE: they don’t want to cause offence (this is good!) and they feel they don’t know enough about religion in general or the religion they are to teach in particular (this needs putting right). If you ask teachers to rank the subjects in order of the confidence they feel to them, then RE, music, languages, PE and ICT are usually the bottom five. Do this. How can you address teachers’ lack of confidence? Why not plan a day of whole-school RE professional development? You do it for the other four subjects, so include RE.

3. Do we know what we are doing in RE – and why? Governors will know that RE has to be taught in all school types, but do you know why? Invite the subject leader to talk about the purpose of RE and share examples of pupils’ work. A curriculum audit against your local syllabus or your diocesan guidance is important, but it’s also worth looking at whether your school has run an RE day, entered an RE competition, sought the RE Quality Mark or shows other signs of lively practice. Is RE linked to your school’s special strength in, for example, forest education, dance and drama or local history?


For the staffroom and senior leaders 4. What do teachers say about RE? Are your class teachers all excited about open-ended discussion of big issues? Do they make easy links to art, music, history and English? Does RE lead on Philosophy4Children? Or does the conversation stop short at ‘RE: Gulp! Don’t ask me’? Ask the teachers what they need to make RE (even) better.

enhance the learning. Persona dolls? Artefacts? Digital resources? NATRE Silver membership? Sometimes governors want to invest in a subject, boosting its profile. Is it RE’s turn for a boost?

8. How can we secure real excellence in RE? There are no SATs for RE (thank the saints and angels). But a simple and lightweight RE assessment system, which informs curriculum planning and reporting to parents in a thoughtful and accurate way, is essential. Governors can see how progress is secured through portfolios of work, and often children’s theology and philosophy is charming as well as insightful: you might enjoy that part of your meeting!

5. What do pupils say about RE? A pupil voice survey of the children’s perceptions of RE can be very revealing, and will make governors sit up and take notice! Get older pupils to run the questionnaire, analyse the results and present their findings to the governing body. What do children enjoy in RE? What do they want to find out about? What have they learned?

6. How can we improve diversity and community links? The government’s British Values strategy says that a single visit to a place of worship would be tokenistic. Is your school any better? Most schools manage a church visit, but many are also planning programmes of visits to temples and gurdwaras, mosques and synagogues. If parents are wary of such interfaith RE, should the school budget for coach money, so that the trips can be free? And when you go on a visit, how will you know that the best possible learning has taken place? When you discuss SMSC and British Values, do you include excellent examples of work that is done in RE?

9. How can we celebrate what is best in RE? If you have audited all that RE, and found good stuff, then make sure your teachers know how impressed you are. Governance should never be remote, but if you appoint a link governor for RE and their first action is to go around giving out the rosettes, then you can be sure that appreciated teachers will do even better. Ask yourselves: is RE assessed effectively? Are children making good progress in their thinking?

10. Shall we have a cup of tea and a biscuit? After these nine ways forward for RE in your school, you are allowed a chocolate biscuit. It’s about all you get, along with our thanks to you, for being a governor and taking an interest in this subject. Some teachers of RE report that an interested governor is a lifeline. Thank you.

7. What is on the shopping list for our RE subject leader?

Lat Blaylock

Check that the RE budget this year is the same as for history or geography, and ask the subject co-ordinator what would

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For the classroom 4–5

What should be the RE subject content for under 5s? RE in the Early Years Foundation Stage (from the 2013 RE Council Framework) Religious Education is, unlike the subjects of the National Curriculum, a legal requirement for all pupils on the school roll, including all those in the Reception year. This requirement dates from 1944, but is still in place today. Many teachers of RE with Reception classes want to make their RE work part of continuous provision. Here, drawn from the RE Council’s Framework for RE (2013), we suggest what RE can do for our 4-yearolds, in line with the latest EYFS guidance. Teachers can enable pupils to encounter religions and worldviews through special people, books, times, places and objects and by visiting places of worship. Children can listen to and talk about stories. Pupils can be introduced to subject-specific words and use all their senses to explore beliefs, practices and forms of expression. Teachers can encourage them to ask questions and reflect on their own feelings and experiences. They can use their imagination and curiosity to develop their appreciation of and wonder at the world in which they live. In line with the EYFS Profile 2013, RE should, through planned, purposeful play and through a mix of adult-led and child-initiated activity, provide these opportunities for pupils. A Christmas example Children do a walk in December in their local area as part of the learning about the world. They are asked to look for signs of Christmas, and they see seven different ones. Back in school, the children look at photos the TA has taken and say which ones they think are the ones that tell you most about the story of Jesus. They are beginning to know about their own culture and beliefs, and/or the cultures and beliefs of others.


Communication and Language: Children: • listen with enjoyment to stories, songs and poems from different cultures and beliefs and respond with relevant comments, questions or actions • use talk to organise, sequence and clarify thinking, ideas, feelings and events • answer ‘who’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions about their experiences in response to stories, experiences or events • talk about how they and others show feelings; talk about their own and others’ behaviour, and its consequences, and know that some behaviour is unacceptable. Personal Social and Emotional Development Children: • understand that they can expect others to treat their needs, views, cultures and beliefs with respect • work as part of group, taking turns and sharing fairly, understanding that there needs to be agreed values and codes of behaviour for groups of people, including adults and children, to work together harmoniously • think about issues of right and wrong and why these questions matter • respond to significant experiences showing a range of feelings when appropriate • have a developing awareness of their own needs, views and feelings and be sensitive to those of others • have a developing respect for their own cultures and beliefs, and those of other people • show sensitivity to others’ needs and feelings, and form positive relationships.

Understanding the World Children: • talk about similarities and differences between themselves and others, among families, communities and traditions • begin to know about their own cultures and beliefs and those of other people • explore, observe and find out about places and objects that matter in different cultures and beliefs. Expressive Arts and Design Children: • use their imagination in art, music, dance, imaginative play, and role-play and stories to represent their own ideas, thoughts and feelings • respond in a variety of ways to what they see, hear, smell, touch and taste. Literacy Children: • are given access to a wide range of books, poems and other written materials to ignite their interest. Mathematics Children: • recognise, create and describe some patterns, sorting and ordering objects simply. These learning intentions for RE can be the basis for planning and syllabus making. They were developed from relevant areas of the Early Learning Goals. RE syllabus makers will want to provide detailed examples of such learning intentions in action, and RE Today would like to hear from Early Years practitioners who have good ideas to share.

For the staffroom

A Humanist view

Every term we ask people from six or seven different religions and beliefs about their view of the magazine’s theme. Here, Lisa gives her perspective on attacking and defending beliefs

Are there occasions when you feel your worldview is under attack? On a personal level, no. I’ve not been attacked in any serious way for my worldview. At worst I’ve encountered hostility on social media, but that’s easily blocked. In the UK I feel Humanism is enjoying a period of growth and confidence born of a growing recognition of the changing religious make-up of the country. On a global level there are areas where the right to live a non-religious identity is under attack. There are countless examples of state-sanctioned persecution and extrajudicial execution of secularists, freethinkers and atheists. This is often part of a larger campaign against any unorthodox belief, meaning the rights of religious minorities are also trampled. I think it’s important for those of us with freedom of expression to speak out in defence of those who have it denied. Do you have ways of responding to attacks on your beliefs that are not defensive? Like many Humanists, I’m a strong believer in secular pluralism: a society where we accept each other’s freedom of, or freedom from, religious perspectives. As a result, I’m not motivated to change people’s minds if we disagree on matters of metaphysics. For me, Humanism is a positive life stance rooted in gaining inspiration from human lives, art, community, culture and the natural world. This is how I try to respond when others criticise it; by stressing the things I do believe about humanity and

wherever possible drawing connections with the lives of believers. I share many of my values and inspirations with friends and colleagues of various faiths, and it’s these connections I aim to draw on in debates or disagreements, along with my abiding interest in religious expression in its many forms. I find responding from a position of interest in shared commonalities rather than defending my views is more effective.

come not from the non-religious but from liberal reformers within their own traditions. It might seem like a doubleedged assault on more conservative forms of religious commitment and belief.

Some feel that religion in general is under attack in Britain. How do you see it?

I think the changing patterns of religious expression and the lived realities of believers are one of the most interesting areas to engage with in RE. It’s an area that benefits from engagement with other fields, such as sociology, social anthropology and demographic research. The Pew Research Center suggests that over the next 35 years we will see an increase in religious populations, both in absolute numbers and as a proportion of world population. I think we can expect startling geographic differences in where these changes happen: evidence suggests that while religious adherence will increase globally, in Europe and the USA an increasing proportion of the population will identify as non-religious.

I understand why some people may feel this, though I think in many ways Britain is a good model for a pluralistic society, and that people of faith enjoy a high degree of religious freedom and, in some cases, privilege. It is clear, though, that patterns of religious affiliation and expression in the UK are changing. These changes will naturally feel threatening to some people of faith. Although still nominally a Christian country, Christian affiliation is in decline and Christian expression is less central to cultural life. Alongside this, evidence of an increasingly non-religious population is leading to growing calls for secularisation and the ending of historic religious privilege. This can feel like an attack on religion itself. To avoid this, I think it’s important to specify what we mean by secularism: some people wrongly characterise it as a movement to end religion. Many Humanists see secularism as a means of promoting pluralism and freedom of, and from, religion: a society where there is no inbuilt privilege or disadvantage for faiths. I believe that some of the greatest challenges to conservative religious ideals

The global picture is of wide religious growth. Do you think religion will grow stronger or weaken, globally, in the coming decades? What about Humanism?

I’m not expecting a significant increase in the numbers of people identifying as Humanists. Linda Woodhead’s work on the ‘fuzzy nones’ has been illuminating here: her research suggests the majority of people who identify as non-religious do not identify as atheist, let alone Humanist. However, I suspect many of them would subscribe to common Humanistic values, which gives me cause for hope. Lisa O'Connor is a Humanist who teaches RE in Birmingham



Fight prejudice with the most fantastic tool we have: RE Award-winning comedian Sara Pascoe works with RE students on their media skills. We asked her how she got involved. Thanks to students from James Allen’s Girls’ School and their RE teacher Debbie Lewis

RET: Sara, you have been taking media workshops with RE students recently. What made you get involved with this?

RET: Do comedians always risk offending someone? SP: My view is that it’s never offensive to tackle a topic, it depends how you do it. I’ve heard some brilliant comedy lately about Syria and Palestine, where the comic exaggerates the awful situation but, as well as a laugh, you get to talk about it in ways that bring out an analysis of a terribly difficult topic, to make people think. In my show, I don’t use the word ‘rape’ on stage, because I can guess the experience of some women in my audience. You’d better have a really good reason for pushing


© Faye Thomas

SP: I like to hang out with young people and talk about comedy. Working with the RE students has been great, with a lot to talk about. Sexist and racist comedy, like Dapper Laughs and Andrew Lawrence, is provocative so it’s good to see the other side. I think it’s important to joke about what really matters, and to see how comedy upsets people. I showed the students examples of comedy using religion, like Bill Hicks’ stuff on God hiding dinosaur bones, Jesus taking a thorn out of a dinosaur’s foot. The young people got it straight away: what’s wrong in comedy isn’t any particular topic, it’s saying to one group or other ‘You’re stupid. You deserve no respect.’

that button in a comedy! But I do talk about sexual assault and the way people say of a woman ‘she was asking for it dressed like that’. In the show I say ‘I think it would be better if all women always went nude, then no one could say “she was asking for it”.’ In RE lessons, as in comedy, there should be open-minded questioning of everything.

RET: Do you want your comedy to change people’s ideas and attitudes? SP: First of all I want it to be funny. But Michael Frayn says ‘comedy is cathartic’ – it can provoke you to release something you’ve been holding in. I think middle-class people go to comedy so that they can make fun of the Tories or whoever they don’t agree with, but they don’t do anything to change it. When I started doing comedy, I decided I didn’t want to make the world worse, so it does have a purpose for me.

RET: Is that a moral purpose? SP: Not all comedians agree with this, and I know you can do a show with a pure heart and still upset people. And I want to be open minded, so clearly people have different moral values. So for example I do the things ‘No More Page 3’ ask me to do, because it is an anti-sexist movement. But at the same time I’m careful not to condemn glamour models or sex workers in what I say on stage. They deserve my respect, and from some of them I hear the idea that this choice of work has some logic to it.

Obviously not if they are coerced at all. In fact, taking your top off for Page Three of the Sun and wearing the Muslim niqab are quite similar: if you ban this because some people are coerced into it, then you restrict choice as well. I don’t like bans much.

RET: Why have you developed an interest in RE? SP: I was brought up by atheist parents, so when I was rebelling as a teenager, I took to going to church and reading the Bible. Incredible stories in the Bible! If my dad would come into my room, I’d pick up the Bible and read it as he came in, to annoy him. At school I thought RE was about really interesting topics, but our teacher was the only RE teacher in the school, and our class bullied him. It was heartbreaking! Then when I was 18 I met a person I liked who was becoming an RE teacher, and noticed it wasn’t the subject but just the teacher who’d made me think it was lame. Now I’ve been in Australia recently where RE is done by your own religious community so you might never learn about Muslims or Buddhists. I was shocked really. And here, the schools in Birmingham where religious takeovers have been a problem have followed, I think, a dangerous line. In the media it is portrayed as indoctrination, and you throw in the word ‘terrorist’ and a dangerous line is crossed. Why not fight this with the most fantastic tool we have – RE?

RET: So what do you like about British RE? SP: Well I think religions come from a place of trying to understand the world. I see it in a kind of Nietzschean way. The more good religion there is, the more bad there will be too. Openness to all ideas is great, but then you have to make space, for example, for fundamentalism too. Good RE could rescue children from fundamentalism by showing them there are many views. I like my job because I don’t have to decide – politicians

must do that. I like asking the questions for a laugh. Comedy is like RE in this way: at the risk of offending people you show up what’s really going on and try to make people think.

RET: Do you think religion is a force for good or a force for evil in the world?

without a faith, to notice that many of the most compassionate people are inspired by their religion. Faith seems to make many people lift themselves beyond their own unhappiness to generosity, compassion, wider friendship. Churches are running most of the food banks! But it’s so wrong that we need them!

SP: Religion is like every human being: a force for good, and potentially for bad too. It’s very interesting for someone like me,

Spirited Arts competition NATRE’s annual RE art competition attracts over 20,000 entrants every year. The competition runs from the start of the school year until 31 July, with judging taking place over the summer break. FREE to enter! Open to 4–19s from all school types. Great end-of-term activity! Check out this years themes on our website. Closing date: 31 July.

Charlotte, Age 5 Theme: Where is God today? “God is dashing down to the city to get the spirit of a dead person to take them to heaven so they are safe.”

Go to for more info 17

RE: definitely, massively, totally thriving Jonny has taught RE at secondary school level since 2007. He took a year out in 2010/2011 when he taught at a primary school in Buckinghamshire prior to studying for an MSc in Educational Research. Jonny is Head of RE at a school in West Sussex and served on the NATRE Exec from 2009 to 2015. We asked him about his views on RE. Your experience as an RE teacher is good, but what do you think it’s like for someone who doesn’t have a positive experience? As you say, I’ve had really positive experiences of teaching RE in a really ace department in a school that places a high value on RE so it’s quite hard to answer this without sounding incredibly patronising. However, I know of plenty of colleagues in other schools for whom ensuring the future of high-quality RE in their school is a real uphill battle. In particular, colleagues who are working as the only RE specialist in a sea of disinterested non-specialists, teaching the odd hour of RE to fill up their timetables undoubtedly have a really tough time of it. In these environments it must be hard to stay positive and focused but, from my point of view, these are the places where the battle for the future of RE really matters. It is all well and good teaching the subject in an established strong department but it’s the people who are toiling away and keeping the RE in their school afloat despite all the odds who are the real heroes in my eyes. Keep fighting, people, and remember you are not as alone as you sometimes might feel you are: NATRE really are here for you. Join or set up a Local Group and get involved in NATRE nationally to see what I mean! You won’t regret it!

Do you think that RE is well received as a subject?

I think this totally depends on the school context you are working in these days. In some schools headteachers have really latched onto the enormous power and relevance of our subject and have employed high-quality RE teachers who are able to


inject their passion into the student population. Unfortunately, this is by no means the case everywhere, especially after the previous government’s continued refusal to accept RE into the EBacc (although they did at least make it part of the ‘Best 8’).

How important is RE to a child’s future?

Massively. You wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t agree with me on that one! Our job is to continue to spread this message to anybody and everybody who will listen to it!

Do you think the NATRE membership can help RE nationally?

Definitely. NATRE membership is massively exciting. From my point of view, NATRE should be a voice for all RE teachers nationally where our Executive becomes for all intents and purposes an ‘RE Teachers Parliament’. The more members we have, the more seriously our voice will be taken and the more accurately the Exec will reflect the true make-up of RE teachers nationally. If you haven’t signed up yet, please do so! Getting more members will also allow us to generate more funding which will be ploughed back into the provision of ever increasing amounts of CPD for our members. This can only be a positive thing. I also love the fact that the membership gives people personal responsibility by allowing them to become personal members. This is a top idea because it will allow each and every one of us to feel that we really belong to a national association that is run by us, for us. Let’s help NATRE to support us by supporting them.

Understanding Christianity

Book your place on the Understanding Christianity training to receive: • high-quality CPD from our Editor and writers, or an accredited trainer

EYFS / KS1 / KS2 / KS3

• a 60 page Teacher’s Handbook

Launched at Lambeth Palace in 2016, Understanding Christianity is now used in over 4000 schools around the country, supporting over one million pupils, building their knowledge and understanding of Christianity. The exciting Understanding Christianity project resource offers a clear, coherent and exciting approach to teaching and learning about Christianity in school RE for 4–14-year-olds. Visit the exclusive showcase download area to read ‘Understanding Christianity: Five hopes’ from Professor David Ford.

• 29 full units of work, from Foundation Stage 2 through to Year 9 • introductory booklets for each phase • over 150 photocopiable resource sheets • the Big Frieze illustration, setting the concepts within a wider biblical context (see below) • Picturing Christianity – a visual teaching resource pack for learning from global Christianity • online access to additional materials and support

To find out more go to and to see the latest training dates near you!


Pupils are able to make sense of texts and varied interpretations, to understand the impact of beliefs in the lives of Christians, and to make connections to wider learning and to themselves.

Each pupil’s development in these three elements is assessed against end-of-phase outcomes.


So, we’ve identified eight core concepts at the heart of Christianity that pupils need to understand. These concepts tell the ‘big story’ of the Bible.

Pupils will encounter these concepts, and teachers will teach them through key questions, using a model with three elements. This develops pupils’ abilities to make sense of texts related to the core concepts, to understand the impact of belief in these concepts in the lives of Christians and the Christian community, and to make connections beyond the concepts with other learning, including pupils’ own responses.

The Understanding Christianity Resource Pack offers support to develop teachers’ confidence with the subject content. It also provides a wide range of classroom learning ideas and resources to enable and deepen pupils’ learning.

Pupils will encounter these concepts a number of times as they move through the school.

They build up their understanding — we’ve identified ‘knowledge building blocks’ related to each concept.



Greater religious and theological literacy.


For the classroom SEN

Multisensory RE for special pupils Jinny Morgan Lewtas wanted to improve her RE work for her special pupils, so she got all multisensory with the festivities of Easter. There are lessons here for other teachers, both primary and secondary, to learn. Read on to find out what happened when the touchy-feely RE began to work. We created a multisensory ‘Easter room’ at my special school recently. The pictures show you that pupils were given time and space to use all their senses to explore crosses, to contribute to an egg tree, to try out some Easter food, and to be involved in their own learning. Readers cannot hear the music, or smell the hot cross buns, but could you imagine trying this approach in your school to meet the learning needs of your pupils? For children with additional needs, religious education is – and should remain – an experience to be enjoyed, with endless learning possibilities. It should leave an imprint in our pupils’ memories to be drawn out later in life with fondness.

The Easter Tree and the Salvadorean Cross are just two examples of the way key Easter artefacts stimulate curiosity to touch and feel.

As Head of RE in a primary special school, it’s my job to ensure that our pupils are able to access the RE curriculum in the best way possible. The pupils here at Stanley School in Pensby, Wirral, have very wide and varied needs. The vast majority of our pupils are unable to access RE via the traditional ‘chalk, talk and learn’ style of teaching, which means that our teachers have the added task of adopting a very different approach to the delivery of RE. Having recently completed a Farmington Fellowship, where I researched a number of ways of making RE more


accessible, we are now engaging our pupils in more meaningful RE using a multisensory approach.

What does meaningful RE look like with special pupils? If you were to visit Stanley School, you would be greeted by pupils with a very wide range of abilities, and whose needs may be physical, cognitive, intellectual, auditory, visual or emotional. Many of our pupils have autistic spectrum conditions and experience difficulties with language and communication. Any combination of these needs makes our pupils very complex children to engage and work with. As part of my research, I visited a number of special schools, including a local school (Lyndale School) that offers provision for pupils with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD). This means that pupils may only have access to learning with the direct support of a staff member on a one-to-one basis. The lesson I observed took place in a warm, colourful room with subdued lighting, where the whole emphasis was on the content of the lesson about Hindu celebrations at Diwali. The room felt right: it was warm, it was stimulating (without being over the top), with music and aromas appropriate to the topic.

For the classroom SEN

Stanley School, on the other hand, is different because of the wider variety of needs it caters for. The provision we offer needs to have more interactive options that support sensory needs and are appropriate for the wider range of ability throughout the school. The pupils at Stanley School can be working anywhere in P levels 1–3, though some pupils are working at National Curriculum levels 2–3. More often than not, these pupils will all be members of the same class.

Creating an ‘experience envelope’ for RE Following my visit to Lyndale School, it became apparent that we were ‘lacking something’ at Stanley School. I realised that by teaching an RE topic in a regular classroom, we were open to children being distracted by what goes on outside the windows, visitors to the class (we have many!), and the vastness and brightness of the busy classrooms, not to mention the computer, kitchen area, class displays, interactive whiteboard and toy cupboard. No matter how hard we try, it is extremely difficult to create the right ‘ambience’ in a large classroom with white walls and so many distractions. We needed a place in school where the children could be ‘enveloped’ in an experience without distractions, a place where they could experience connection, security, togetherness, safety, stimulating activities and shared encounters. This would be a place where the children could focus entirely on the lesson, and so would be able to gain much more than simply being present in a lesson and writing about what they had learned (or, in many cases, not learned) in their books. We opened up a spare meeting room for this purpose so that our pupils could

experience RE through a sensory and more spiritual approach, as opposed to simply learning about it. The room is in the very early stages of development, and is used as an alternative/additional teaching tool for all our children, but particularly for our less able children, who have difficulty understanding many of the ideas and concepts in RE. We have adopted a sensory approach that uses imagery, sound, taste, touch and smell, and because the room is a lot smaller than our regular classrooms, the experience is more intimate, safe and comfortable. The room has no natural light so we can create our own light and colour effects, in keeping with the theme of the room. Our Early Years team volunteered to take on the first job by giving the room a Chinese New Year makeover. Classes were timetabled in 45-minute slots over a half term to use the room in conjunction with, and to enhance, each teacher’s normal lesson plans. The room was filled with colour (mainly red), music (Chinese gongs), outfits in which to dress up, food to taste, chopsticks to use, instruments to play, artefacts and materials to handle, and there was space to listen to stories. The room became an ‘experience in’ rather than a lesson about Chinese New Year celebrations and traditions, and provided a solid starting block for all pupils at all levels of ability (in our case, 108 pupils in 12 classes), laying the foundations for future learning. And because the pupils were timetabled to use the room more than once, they became familiar with it and confident in the knowledge that this room was for that specific purpose. Teachers were then able to use the room as a reference point for future teaching and learning back in the regular classroom, and more able pupils were then able to develop their learning after their experiences by answering questions more confidently. Less

able pupils gained an experience which I hope was spiritual, memorable, meaningful and long-lasting. Every teacher in a special school is in the highly privileged position of knowing their pupils well enough to be able to adapt the curriculum to enable their pupils to succeed in learning. As teachers, we automatically use differentiated learning strategies, but experiential and sensory learning takes success to a different level. By making simple adjustments to the environment, the activity, the learning experience and our own expectations in accordance with pupils’ sensory needs, we put ourselves in a position where we could monitor pupils’ responses and successes through their awareness, curiosity, anticipation, enjoyment, connection to the experience, improved self-esteem and sense of fulfilment. Our aim is to change the theme of our room every half term to provide our pupils with the experience they need to support their future learning. Jinny Morgan Lewtas, Stanley School, Wirral Editor’s comment: Thanks to Jinny for these inspiring examples of fine SEN RE practice. Why not try the same approach in mainstream primary, or even with Year 7? You could set aside a room in which debating, storytelling, arguing about beliefs, or in-depth reflection in creative ways can take place, so that pupils experience the ambience of RE as well as learning the lessons.


For the classroom 4–11 Not ‘The Prodigal Son’

Shared stories, different meaning? When telling stories from a shared tradition, make sure you get it right. For example, Adam and Hawa (Eve) feature in the Qur’an, but Hawa does not tempt Adam to eat the fruit; that role is played by Iblis, who tempts both of them. Pupils might enjoy discussing whether the Islamic story sheds a more positive light on women compared to the Judeo-Christian account. Adam and Hawa anger God, but there is no Fall as in Christianity. Explore how the same story, told in different ways, presents a different picture of humanity. Why do cultures share stories? Show origins and connections, for example, between the Abrahamic family of faiths.

If you are teaching about the Prodigal Son, try renaming the story ‘The man and his two sons’. Tell it from the point of view of the father. Ask pupils what the father might think about his two sons. Does he see them differently or does he love them just the same? If you tell the story from the point of view of a man who has two sons, the focus becomes the father’s view of both his sons. When we tell the story from the point of view of the Prodigal Son, the focus is on his journey and not his father. However, for early Christians a vision of a father who loves both his sons equally, despite their different attitudes and actions, was a powerful message.

Who is the hero? Take a story and think about how it might help the hearer at different times in their life. Do they identify with different people in the story? In the story of Siddhartha the young prince sees an old man, a sick man and a dead man. He also sees a holy man. Ask pupils if they identify with the young prince himself. Might someone less young, well or fortunate than them identify with the other figures? Likewise, in the Buddhist story of Kisa and the mustard seed, do pupils identify with Kisa, the villagers she calls on or the Buddha himself?

Using faith stories: Create a tableau Begin at the end of a story, presenting pupils with a ‘tableau’, to generate questions and interest.

Present Muhammad (pbuh) and his followers arriving weary but safe in Medina after the Hijrah. Show the class an Islamic calendar (current year 1439), which is dated from Muhammad’s (pbuh) arrival in Medina and the first Muslim community. Alternatively, set the scene for learning about Guru Nanak with a tableau of his faithful friend Mardana waiting for three days by the river for his lost master to emerge. Starting the story at this point enables pupils to focus on emotions in the story of love and trust, patience and loss, fear and joy.


Stories that engage the senses Use smelling, touching and tasting boxes alongside the more traditional joining in by shouting out or making sounds and seeing props as you share a story. Encourage children to describe the sand they feel in a story based in the desert or to describe the smell of frankincense or manure that might have been smelt around the time of the birth of Jesus. What might children taste? Bring sand, water, cloth or food to engage the senses.


For the classroom 4–11

Dangerous stories Stories are full of danger and conflict. Find scary and dangerous events portrayed in stories and discuss them. Do stories contain conflict to maintain interest? Does the danger get cleaned up over time? Is a story an attempt to explain the scary side of life? An example from Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions is the flooding of the Earth in the story of Noah, or Nuh in Islam; or the attempts of Joseph’s brothers to kill him in Genesis 37; or the Book of Yusuf in the Qur’an (Yusuf is an Arabic version of the name Joseph). Pupils might be aware of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes. Dahl makes a joke of allowing stories to be scary, but traditional stories are often scary.

Remembering events Stories are full of spectacular events. How can we portray these in the classroom? Use props and noises to help pupils visualise dramatic events. Tell the story of Guru Gobind Singh’s founding of the Khalsa. You will need five figures, a tent, a sword and five yellow robes. When retelling the story, put props on the desk in a muddle and ask pupils to sort them into order, telling the bits of the story as they do.

ten great ideas

Spectacular events What purpose do the extraordinary events in some religious stories serve? In Exodus, the plagues, night of the Passover and the Hebrews’ escape on the sea bed tell Jewish listeners that their God is most powerful of all. Miracle stories and amazing stories in which God is a lead character are important in many faiths. Should we take them literally, or is that a mistake?

Mystery bags and boxes Begin with a mystery object concealed in a soft bag and use it to welcome a story into the classroom. For example, use a Shiva Nataraja (a statue of Shiva dancing) as an inspiration for the stories about Shiva. Why is he dancing in a circle of fire? Why does he wear a snake around his neck? What is he stamping on? From this point tell the story.

Instagram or Twitter Whilst pupils (hopefully) won’t have their own social media accounts, many schools or classes do. Ask pupils to consider what Sita might tweet in the middle and at the end of the story of Diwali and her capture by the evil Ravana. Alternatively, what would the Instagram picture and text be to sum up the feeling of the father in the story of the Prodigal Son, or ‘The man with two sons’?


For the classroom 4–11

The angel’s message: learning from Islam, thinking for ourselves At Riverside Primary School in Southwark, our 5- to 6-year-olds were learning about Islam. They thought about the messages that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) received from the Angel Jibril, and began to learn about the Muslim holy book, the Qur’an. I taught them that in Islamic understanding, all the Prophets, including Moses and Jesus, received messages from God. The Last Prophet, Muhammad (pbuh) received the first Revelation in a cave from the mighty Angel Jibril. My children looked at some examples of (simplified) sayings from the Qur’an that were a part of the message, and they heard some stories of the Prophet’s (pbuh) life. The children identified with the fact that Muhammad (pbuh) said he could not read or recite: they feel this acutely for themselves. Then came the big question: if an angel sent a message to Earth today, what would it say? With a whole-school focus on writing, the children took a piece of golden paper and created their angel messages for today’s planet. I wanted to make sure that my Year 1 RE was more than factual, and that’s why I included the chance for children to think about their own ideas and insights on the ‘angel messages’ theme. I was aiming to enable pupils to know more about the first Revelation of the Holy Qur’an, a key story in Islam, and to think about the roles of prophets and angels in Islam. The class has just a couple of Muslim pupils in it: they were pleased to show that they already knew something about their own religion. Other children were interested in stories about God and angels, and full of questions.

The children’s suggestions about what the angels might say today included:

‘You don’t kill animals and people, and be kind.’ Dylan-Lee

‘Be kind to animals and be kind to poor people. Jibril.’ Isabelle

‘Be kind to your families.’ Esther

‘Give money to people and be kind to people. Do not hurt animals. Do not fight people.’ Etienne

‘Pray to God five times.’ Simon

‘Be kind to your parents because they look after you.’ Arabella

When they had the chance to create their own ‘angelic messages’, I thought it was important to emphasise that they were being invited to imagine, but Muslims believe the Qur’an is full of real messages from God.


These next three examples of the class’ ‘angel messages’ show some aspects of the learning in action. In this open-ended task, pupils picked up on the stories of the Prophet (pbuh) they had heard about being kind to animals, or caring for your parents or practising the five daily prayers. One Muslim girl re-used one of the names of Allah: ‘Most Gracious’: her ‘angel message’ asks people to be graceful to others. She said: ‘It means you look after people and you are lovely to them.’ Some of the best ideas were spoken and heard rather than written down. To share all the ideas, I used a whispering game. The pupils all tiptoed around our Year 1 area in their socks, and when they met another pupil they each whispered their messages to each other (they all know how to read their own, but not necessarily each other’s!). After this, the class discussed which messages they liked the most. In this, my class were encouraged to bring their learning about Islamic sacred text, revelation and the Prophet (pbuh) into focus in ways that also expressed their own values and ideas. Something about the

golden paper and the time given to this simple writing task led to good responses not just from three or four pupils, but from the whole class. What pleased me about this work was that children really engaged with the idea of messages being special or sacred. They concentrated really well, and were attached to – and proud of – the messages they wrote. They also really listened to each other. After the whispering activity they could all say which was their favourite of the messages they had heard. At our school we want RE to develop in directions that include more chances for reflective work and deeper understanding of more than one religion. I think this lesson is a step in the right direction. Abi Blaylock teaches Year 1 at Riverside Primary School in Southwark

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For the classroom 5–11

Developing critical thinking in primary RE Naomi Anstice is the assistant head teacher at Frodsham Manor House Primary School in Cheshire, and is a member of the NATRE Executive. Her school is a Global Learning Expert Centre. She has undertaken a term-long research project with the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms programme to develop the Global Dimension skill of critical thinking in her RE lessons.

The project involved all classes across the school, and those which she has written about here were with Year 6. Throughout this term Naomi’s focus was on children learning to critically question the world around them, to look at how it is presented on the media, and to develop questioning skills. The Global Learning Project has provided many schools with opportunities like these – perhaps your school is among them. The year began with an assessment debate in which pupils considered the purpose and value of RE lessons. This also led to the selection of RE Ambassadors. This lesson was structured in a Great British Bake Off style: 1) Decide what you are going to bake. (Design your enquiry question.)

5) Baking time. (The main P4C debate.)

2) Collect your ingredients. (Share your ideas with a partner, then a small group.)

6) Show your results. (Write on a sticky note what you have learnt today, and bring it forward.)

3) Remember, preparation is everything. (Collect the resources you need, your view poster and debating cue cards.)

7) Today’s Star Baker. (Who has helped to develop your view today and made effective contributions?)

4) Mix your ingredients. (A few warm-ups to express your views as you begin: opinion lines and speaking and listening pairs are good examples.)


For the classroom 5–11

At this stage, the children were linking their questions to respect, liberty, society and community, but needed to reach further in order to explore opinions and to question facts. Over the next term, through lessons on community, worship and Humanism, we kept coming back to what we knew critical thinking involved, so lessons were adapted to create opportunities for problem-solving, reasoning and decision-making. We then thought about the key features of critical thinking: how were we considering different perspectives, evaluating evidence, solving non-routine problems and locating the deep structures. We also used our critical thinking techniques during One World Week when we looked at the lives of refugees from Syria and at the impact of faith on a child’s family in Afghanistan.

3. Discuss how the photos can help you develop your understanding of the key question: ‘What is the role of the mosque in the community?’ 4. Each team was given a focus word: imam, convert, gender, teenagers, elderly, madrasah, worship. The children had to think of questions relating to their theme (e.g. imams + mosque, or teenagers + mosque), and had ten minutes to check up on anything they were uncertain about. They had to make up: a. a stimulus question (using ‘look, see or imagine’ techniques) b. an open question (‘let’s talk about it together’) c. a general question (to organise your answers into a category, such as ‘religious questions’ or ‘questions about right and wrong’ d. A closed question (ask an expert)

Our final three sessions of the term were about the role of the mosque in the community. One afternoon session was led by Imran Kotwal from Muslim Learner Services. This session considered charity, and included an extended question-and-answer session which demonstrated the class’s improvement in question design. We then worked on Book Creator on iPads to look at mosque design, and spent an afternoon using ‘flipped classroom’ techniques to dig deeper into the role of the mosque. The class was divided into teams and told that they were to become the researchers, architects and detectives. They had six missions to complete: 1. Complete a diagram, with their team, of the layout of the mosque, to revisit learning from the previous session.

5. Each team had time to research and bullet-point their answers. 6. Each team presented their findings to the class and answered further questions. While it was certainly challenging for Year 6 children to design different questions on their theme, it was evident how their questioning techniques had developed over the space of the term – as had their ability to work as part of a team. The children are now looking forward to their next project, in which they will design and deliver their own unit of work on the theme of angels. Naomi Anstice

2. Investigate photos of mosques from around the world (from their explorer packs, which contain books, information and photographs for their research) and be ready to tell the teacher about two of the photos, using correct terminology.

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For the classroom 5–11

RE at the synagogue and the mosque Victoria McDowell explains why a small, rural primary school chose to visit a mosque and a synagogue, a journey which took over two hours

new life within Judaism continues in spite of what has happened; a sign of strength that has stood the test of time and history.

To put it simply, first-hand experience is everything for our pupils. If we could take them back to certain times in history to hear, smell and see everything in vivid, safe detail, we would, wouldn’t we?

On another wall was a ‘Tree of Life’ with small plaques marking not just the death of members of the congregation, but also Jewish celebrations: bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs. Tiny red lights glinted from a smaller plaque which commemorated people who had recently died.

As religious education teachers, we can become overly reliant on the internet and texts for watching religious practices. This in itself distances our pupils from humanity. This can create a distorted reality, often extended in the minds of pupils (as, certainly in our community, the only other experiences of Muslims are to be found on the front pages of newspapers or on the TV news in an extreme form: thus pupils never see the true ‘middle ground’ of everyday life.) The trip came in the context of reports of anti-semitic attacks having doubled in the UK, and the recent terrorist attacks in France which, amongst others, targeted Jewish communities. Also, the anti-Islam movement Pegida had held a march in Newcastle the week before. This is not a settled period for religion, and it is not a time for complacency in teaching religious education. For a long time we had discussed how valuable it would be to take upper junior pupils to visit places of worship from other religions. The ideal would have been to incorporate all the main religions we cover; the reality would prove to be too much for one day. At first we began to look as far afield as Preston, as a teaching student who had recently been placed at the school spoke


to pupils about his own Muslim faith in a way that pupils could relate to, finding the commonalities between it and Christianity (our pupils’ main religion). I then asked a voluntary helper at our school, who happens to be Jewish, if there were synagogues equipped for a visit from primary pupils. After some thorough research, we were able to narrow our search down to Newcastle Reform Synagogue. Luckily, when we contacted the Newcastle Central Mosque, they had a slot available on the same day. It was truly humbling to find that the people who hosted our visits were volunteers from the relevant congregations, who gave up their time – and a day’s work, in some cases – to show us around.

Learning Judaism At the Reform Synagogue boys were asked to put on skull caps in a vestibule: girls also had the option to do this if they wished. We went into a multipurpose hall which felt warm: it had a wooden parquet floor and a crèche area with toys in the corner, underneath a sign reminding people not to forget those who had died in the war. Two of the earliest members of the synagogue have a memorial plaque in the library area; they lost twenty-two members of their close family in the war before they arrived in Newcastle. Our host pointed out the plaque, explaining that it remembered not just Jewish people, but also the many people from other races who had also died. The plaque had deliberately been placed directly above the crèche – a reminder that

We were able to watch whilst the Torah was removed from the Ark, paraded around the hall and then opened on the Bimah (reading desk). We were welcomed to gather around to look closely at the calligraphic lettering. A PowerPoint presentation on a large screen rigged up to the side of the Bimah explained the work that goes into creating and repairing a Torah scroll for a synagogue. The scroll has to be sent to London to be written by a qualified sofer; it would be as wide as a football pitch at its full length, and one mistake would mean that the whole scroll would have to be restarted. The ink used for the scroll comes from the gall nut of an oak tree. The parchment is made from the skin of a kosher animal. The creation story was depicted on one wall in modern-day metalwork and, like the Torah, it ran from right to left. Each article in the synagogue was a reminder of how Jewish people – the historic Jewish community – had been rescued from persecution: the atmosphere was one of warmth and thankfulness. It was surprising to hear that the synagogue had received over 500 visiting schoolchildren prior to Christmas.

For the classroom

No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. Learning Islam The Central Mosque at present is a large portacabin, but no less warm or atmospheric for that. A friendly bear of a man greeted our coach by the side of the road: just as a relative looks out for arriving visitors, he had come out of the mosque to ensure we found it without difficulty. At the outset our host explained that everything we tried in the mosque would not indoctrinate us. We removed our shoes and placed them in a shoe rack, then warmed our feet on a deep pile carpet. The reasons for shoe removal became clear when our host told us how Muslims pray – it is an extremely active movement, going from standing to squatting on all fours. A mat ensures that the area you use is clean – an essential prerequisite for praying – thus the mat is not necessary in a mosque that has been kept clean. We discovered that Muslims position their hands beside their ears at the start of prayer, then place their right hand over the left, then recite the opening prayer along with the opening chapter from the Qur’an. The worshipper bends down, stands, kneels and prostrates him or herself before rising to kneel and wish peace to other worshippers. One wall displayed the mosque clocks (one main clock then six ‘salah’ clocks) that remind Muslims of the five daily prayer times. Muslims believe in equality, so pray next to fellow Muslims, regardless of their profession or wealth. Our other hosts, two women, then taught us about the hijab headscarf – there was a pile for boys and one for girls, marked out by a variation in colours to use. All this was voluntary for pupils. At the end of the visit, tea and biscuits were welcome: in short, we were made to feel at home. The children

took away with them a drink and a cake, and we were presented with gifts for the school, including a copy of the Qur’an.

Similar and different Both establishments made reference to the global situation, including terrorist attacks: all of our hosts were keen to stress that the people who carry out the attacks may consider themselves to be religious, but they are not, because they are killing people. For our pupils, these hosts and their places of worship were far removed from the media portrayal of recent terrorist attacks. I hope what will remain in our pupils’ minds and resonate with them is not the attacks made in the name of religion, the mindless acts of killers who hide behind a religion. Instead, let them remember the words we use with children, by Malala Yousafzai:

‘This is the compassion I have learned from Muhammad, the prophet of mercy, Jesus Christ, and Lord Buddha.’ We believe in educating children in the principles of these and other religions in their formative years, so that hostilities don’t occur through ignorance. Alongside this, we are giving pupils a strong understanding of right and wrong, and extending this to a community conscience; educating our pupils not just in the practices of religions but in becoming the culturally aware citizens of tomorrow. This journey of over two hours, while not valuable by the measurement of SATs or league tables, nevertheless contributed to increasing our pupils’ understanding of other religions.

Vicky McDowell teaches at Bridekirk Dovenby Primary School in Cumbria. She is the vice-chair of the College of Teaching. 29

For the classroom 7–16

The langar on the street

Sikh values in action in Northampton Northampton Sikhs are doing ‘langar on the street’: Harkirat Singh explains why. The food we share through langar is freshly prepared at the Northampton Gurdwara by volunteers, then loaded into cars. Nobody gets charged or paid; and most of the ingredients are also donations. We set up our tables at about 6 pm on the main shopping street in Northampton where many people are eagerly awaiting us. On this chilly evening, vegetarian rice and lentils are being served, with a selection of donated fresh fruit, chocolate energy bars, water bottles, tea and coffee. The night this picture was taken, food was served by a family and a few friends. Also, kind people have been donating socks/gloves and scarves – some of which have been hand knitted at the Sikh Community Centre and Gurdwara – and these are distributed as well.

Generally, the recipients of the food are extremely grateful for the langar they have received. Often it’s the only hot meal of the day, sometimes the only meal, and you can see this in their eyes as they eat. On talking with the recipients, some faces are those we have seen before, others new. Some recipients are simply struggling. Others come because it’s free food: everyone is welcome. Most now know not to bring alcohol to the area and not to be smoking, and they respect this. Some people have started to question why we offer free food to all. Some have realised: why not share when you’ve been blessed? Many of the recipients kindly throw away their rubbish in the bins, and stand around. Sometimes they make new friends – it’s a community that’s growing in joy.

In the background volunteers are chatting with the recipients of the food, and also inviting passers-by to join in if they wish. Some volunteers have gone walking around the town to let others know, especially in the known spots nearby where homeless people often gather and seek shelter on these cold nights.

The picture on page 33 is representative of langar being served throughout the world – it will always be vegetarian food and anybody should be made welcome to receive and help with serving it humbly. Schools who visit the gurdwara in Northampton quite often now bring donations of food to help with this, and any surplus tins of foods. If we can’t use these in the street feeds they are taken to other local food banks and places of worship.

Simran is played in the background – meditative music to calm the environment and remind all of this humble opportunity to serve humanity without prejudice. Other volunteers can be seen on standby: sometimes recipients of the food are under the influence of drugs or alcohol and other intoxicants, so we take care of the safety and wellbeing of all. The Sikh langar (free kitchen) was started by Guru Nanak just over 550 years ago and has continued to be served worldwide, usually within gurdwaras, ever since. Mata Khivi Jee (the wife of the second Guru) continued this practice of serving and preparing langar, and since the Harmandir Sahib (now fondly referred to as the Golden Temple of Amritsar) was established the feeds have been in thousands on a daily basis, as an integral part of the Sikh way of life.


Some people have started to question why we offer free food to all. Some have realised: why not share when you’ve been blessed?

Anybody can help somebody else by sharing what they’ve been blessed with; it’s a matter of recognising that and putting it into practice as a way of life.

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For the classroom 11–14

The stories we tell ourselves:

three examples to address preconceptions and assumptions Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan With increasing Islamophobia in the British and worldwide press, teachers ‘This Is Not a Humanising Poem’ might be inclined to readjust the balance The days and weeks after a terrorist attack claimed for Islam and tell the story of ‘good Muslims’ are frightening times for British Muslims. As well as the shock and sadness everyone feels, Muslims are vulnerable to increased or ‘Muslims to admire’. But is this just Islamophobia in the press and increased suspicion or even violence another reductive construction? Below on the streets. we present poet, writer and activist While RE teachers might be inclined to reaffirm the overwhelming majority of ‘good Muslims’ to pupils by considering famous and Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan raising well-loved figures such as Mo Farah and Nadiya Hussain, slam pertinent and challenging questions poet, writer and activist Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan turns the about the urge to ‘humanise’ Muslims in tables on this inclination. the West. Does this reflect, she asks, their Manzoor-Khan’s prize-winning poem, delivered at the Roundhouse Poetry Slam at the 2017 Last Word Festival, is called ‘This Is Not a de-humanising in mainstream culture? Humanising Poem’. She does not want to persuade the audience Should we focus not on ‘good Muslims’ that Muslims are human too, but demands to know why the nonWestern world can only see them as human when they are but the surrounding culture that creates Muslim winning medals and baking cakes. them as ‘bad’? Pupils and teachers bring their own preconceptions to the classroom, and when these can be made visible or acknowledged, learning can be richer and discussion, arguably, more insightful. In the second example three white, male bishops and archbishops are presented. Will students assume that they are unlikely to be calling for radical change in the Christian Church? In fact, all three promote gender and sexual equality, despite assumptions that might be made about them. This example plays on preconceptions students may have, so the preconceptions themselves can become part of the discussion. Finally we present a warning from the economist and philosopher Amartya Sen, pertinent to teachers of RE, to avoid representing people in simplistic and reductive ways.


Read this extract: ‘This will not be a “Muslims are like us” poem. I refuse to be respectable. Instead, love us when we’re lazy. Love us when we’re poor. Love us in our back-to-backs, council estates, depressed, unwashed and weeping. Love us high as kites, unemployed, joy riding, time wasting, failing at school. Love us filthy, without the right colour passports, without the right-sounding English. Love us when we aren’t athletes, when we don’t bake cakes. When we don’t offer our homes or free taxi rides after the event. If you need me to prove my humanity, I’m not the one that’s not human.’ Watch the full video on YouTube: Discuss her comment with your class: If you need me to prove my humanity, I’m not the one that’s not human.

For the classroom 11–14

Gene Robinson, Justin Welby and Rowan Williams Radicals and revolutionaries? Show pictures of three Christian bishops and archbishops: Gene Robinson, Justin Welby and Rowan Williams. Ask if they look like radicals and revolutionaries. What would such figures look like? These might be white men of a certain age, but they have all challenged established Church attitudes. Read about their challenges to the institutional Anglican Church below. Does it take a special kind of courage to speak out against centuries of tradition when you are a senior figure in that institution? Gene Robinson is the world’s first openly gay Anglican bishop and argues that same-sex relationships are not forbidden to Christians. In 2009 Robinson argued that the phrase ‘abomination’ (Leviticus 20:13) and the injunction against homosexual relations are part of the Jews’ ancient ‘holiness code’; an attempt to remain spiritually pure. However, many actions are forbidden in Leviticus, such as not wearing different cloths next to each other or not planting different kinds of seeds together, but these actions are not inherently wrong. Read this blogpost on this theme: onfaith/2010/12/07/homosexuality-in-leviticus/2869 Women have been ordained priests in the Church of England since 1994. Today not all churches welcome women into leadership roles, but two of the strongest advocates have been Justin Welby and Rowan Williams, the current and former Archbishop of Canterbury respectively. After the governing body of the Church of England voted to reject the ordination of women as bishops by just six votes in 2012, Rowan Williams said ‘we have some explaining to do’ and warned that the Church was becoming ‘unintelligible to wider society’ ( His successor, Justin Welby, said at the time the defeat was a ‘grim day’ ( news/uk-20421576). Archbishop Welby continued the conversation after taking office in 2013, and the second vote was successful. The first woman to be ordained bishop in the UK was Libby Lane, in 2014.

Amartya Sen Identity and violence Economist and philosopher Amartya Sen is best known for his development work, demonstrating over his long career that an investment in people, their freedoms and capacities to improve their own lives is the most effective way to develop poorer countries. He is equally interested in identity, culture and ethics, and his economic work often reads more like moral philosophy. In his 2006 book Identity and Violence, Sen argues that each person is a unique combination of many aspects of identity; culture, language and geography but also preferences, hopes and unique skills. He develops a view of each person as being multiple, with multiple loyalties to people, beliefs, choices and desires. Sen’s argument is an attempt to reject ways of presenting people as holding one single identity, especially if it is held to be incompatible with others. He suggests that a person is created through multiple webs of allegiance and support that sustain and give us a language and a sense of belonging, but also form a unique combination for every person. The take-home message for RE teachers is clear: we must guard against a simplistic, reductive and detached presentation of people. Kate Christopher is a member of the REtoday Editorial Team.

Visit the exclusive showcase download area to access additional resources to support this article.


For the classroom 11–16

Do you ever get the sense that your students come to school to watch you work? Jane Halsall at Southend High School for Boys wants to shift the responsibility of critical thinking from her to her students’ shoulders. Empowering young people to think for themselves takes time, which is why Jane set up a lunchtime philosophy club for KS3 students to extend and deepen their thinking in RE. by Kate Christopher and Jane Halsall Although maths and the sciences are hugely popular at this boys’ grammar school, RE is not overlooked. Students who might go on to study medicine or business value the opportunities the subject offers in critical thinking and philosophy. The school is lucky to be led by Doctor Robin Bevan, himself a maths teacher, who appreciates the value of RE for the whole curriculum and has strongly promoted the subject at GCSE. Doctor Bevan says ‘no one is fully educated for the modern world without having stretched their brains, at the highest level of all their learning, to grasp the questions and answers afforded by philosophical reasoning and religious reflection … Those who deny RE a leading place in the school curriculum don’t understand the purpose of education or the nature of life.’ In this article Jane Halsall and Kate Christopher of RE Today present a session of the Philosophy Club that explored a word we use constantly yet rarely take the time to define: ‘religion’. The information and discussion led to an essay competition where boys answered the question, ‘What is religion?’ As noted above, teaching resources and extracts of the winning essays are available for download. The boys are able students, but many ideas presented in this article can enliven discussion and thinking in all types of classrooms. Delving into what we mean by the words we use is key to understanding the world. Moving beyond assumptions and questioning everything shows young people that everything can be questioned.

Delayed gratification? The boys walked in to find a marshmallow sitting at every desk. No instructions were given. Most did not immediately stuff the tempting treat into their mouths, despite this being an extra lesson held at lunchtime. With marshmallows in front of them they watched a short video about ‘the marshmallow test’, a psychological experiment where children are asked to wait five minutes before eating one marshmallow in order to receive two.


Students were asked to make a link between the marshmallow test and religion. Some argued religion was no more than delayed gratification; putting up with restrictions in this life in order to be rewarded in the next life. Others put a more positive spin on this, describing religion as offering hope in an imperfect world.

Beliefs, practices or community? Next, we considered philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah’s interesting take on religion. He argues – for example, in the first of his 2016 Reith Lectures – that although we tend to present religious identity as simple and straightforward, it is anything but. He suggests that we focus entirely on religious beliefs and overlook two essential dimensions: what religious people do and who they do it with. Thus he presents religion as being composed of three things: what people think or know (beliefs), what people do (practices) and who they do these things with (community). His example is of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan who, in 1922, performed the first Bat Mitzvah in Jewish history for his daughter Judith. Although Rabbi Kaplan, and indeed Judith, remained committed to Judaism for the rest of their lives, he was shunned by the Orthodox community of the time. Was it Jewish belief he had rejected? Or was it practice? Some students argued it was indeed belief he had challenged, because the male-only rule of Bar Mitzvahs reflects Jewish belief about men and women. However, some argued that although Rabbi Kaplan had upset traditional practice in a public way, his Jewish beliefs were not affected. Through this example the complexity of belief, practice and community could be explored. Is religion something people think or do or do together? The discussion explored how far someone can be called ‘religious’ who has no tradition or community even if they believe strongly in God, and how far someone can be called ‘religious’

For the classroom 11–16

Is there something essentially similar about all religions? Four winners! if they are an active member of a worshiping community but aren’t really sure if God exists or not. Is religion interior or exterior, individual or communal? How far is religion a set of beliefs at all and how far traditional cultural practices?

Same but different? Finally, students considered Ninian Smart’s classification of world faiths into seven dimensions. He said the faiths studied in RE could be compared because they all contain stories, guidance, experiences, moral principles and so on. The group considered whether there is something essentially similar about all religions, and, if so, what this suggests. Does it mean that religions are different attempts to access the same reality, or all human inventions to meet the same human needs? If, however, Smart is wrong to compare religions in this way because they are essentially different, does this mean that each religion is an attempt to connect to a different God and a different afterlife? Through the ideas of Appiah and Smart, the students were introduced to thinking about religion itself, to add depth to their learning in RE lessons. In taking a step back and considering what lies behind a commonly used word, students have been introduced to the importance of defining and questioning in order to uncover assumptions and inconsistencies underlying language and thought.

Extracts from winning essays ‘Religion helps you cope with the fact that there may be no afterlife, the fact that a family member has died … it’s this and hope that creates a following. Yes, a following. It should be addressed that religion has a meaning, it has a cause. But without the people, religion could never thrive. For example, a teacher couldn’t teach if there was no class … the people are just as important to a cause as a leader.’ Joshua Higgs ‘I think practices would not exist without beliefs. If you do not believe in something, you wouldn’t practice anything. For example, if you didn’t believe in a god, you would not pray … Another example is the Hajj in Islam. If a Muslim didn’t believe in Allah, they would not take the time to go on the pilgrimage.’ Alfie Tuck-Bridge ‘Things that you do for the local community are key components of a religion. Without practice or tradition or helping out for the local place of worship, a fundamental piece of religion is lost. Take Buddhism, for example. Flowers are laid out in front of Buddhist statues as a reminder that life is short on earth … Without these can you really be classed as a Buddhist? I don’t think so at all. Being an active member of a religion is what helps you engage with it.’ Oscar Blackwell Jane Halsall teaches RE at Southend School for Boys

As can be seen from the winning essays, students respond well to such conceptual excavations. RE teachers must be prepared to deconstruct and uncover the familiar and common, as well as the unfamiliar and unusual. The world is not simple or straightforward and the RE classroom can embrace complexity and ambiguity in order to assist young people’s understanding of the world of religion and belief.

Visit the exclusive showcase download area to access additional resources to support this article.


For the classroom 11–16

Hindu traditions, community and spirituality Amrat Bava is a Hindu from Loughborough. He is active in interfaith work and a member of Leicestershire SACRE. Here, he gives teachers an insider’s overview of his religion. We’ve made suggestions for learning at the end, suited to 14–16s working on the Hindu religion. Religion satisfies people’s inner cravings, because many people are not content with merely leading a meaningless existence. A time comes in the life of most of us when worldly affairs and prosperity do not satisfy us. We hanker for something more. Hinduism does not dogmatically assert that final emancipation is only possible through Hinduism, and no other religion. Instead, it allows absolute freedom to the rational human mind. It demands no undue restraints on the freedom of human reason. It allows freedom in the matters of faith and worship. It allows absolute freedom to human reason and hearts with regard to questions such as the nature of God, the soul, creation, forms of worship and the meaning of life. It does not consist merely of the acceptance of a particular doctrine, or the observance of some particular ritual. It allows everyone to reflect, investigate, enquire and cogitate. Hence all sorts of religious faiths, and various kinds of spiritual practices, rituals and customs have found their place within Hinduism and are all nurtured together. The fundamental feature of Hinduism is that it is extremely liberal. It pays respect to all religions. It accepts and honours the truth, wherever it may come from. Hindus like to live in harmony with the followers of other religions. Despite many differences in doctrine, modes of religious discipline and forms of ritualistic practices and social habits prevalent in Hindu society, there is an essential uniformity among all Hindus in their concept of religion and their outlook on life. To Hindus, liberation is the most important goal, and Hindus attempt to attain this. To Hindus,


Amrat Bava Leicestershire SACRE

‘religion’ means the spiritualisation of human life: the religious culture is really the culture of freedom. The foundation of Hinduism has been laid on the bedrock of spiritual truth. My definition of a true Hindu is one who has perfect faith in the laws of karma and reincarnation, in Avtarhood, in varnas and different life stages, in Vedas and in the existence of God; one who earnestly follows the instructions in the Vedas and worships regularly.

Sanatan Dharma We talk of Hinduism as a ‘Sanatan Dharma’, meaning ‘Eternal Way’. It has no founder or creator. ‘Know thyself’: this is what Hinduism stands for. We should do this by love: love towards all creatures is all-embracing and ever-growing. One of the unique features of Hinduism is its ability to evolve and update itself to suit changing times and people. Time changes, and changes are imposed on people, even though no one likes change. This has helped to sustain Hinduism for thousands of years through many difficult times.

Infinite tolerance Infinite tolerance is the hallmark of our religion. Though he is worshipped in different ways in different religions and spiritual paths, there is only one God: ‘Truth is one, the wise call it by various names.’ Dr Radhakrishnan, a modern Hindu philosopher, says: ‘The Hindu attitude to religion is very interesting. While fixed intellectual beliefs mark off one religion from another, Hinduism sets itself no such limits. Intellect is subordinate to intuition, dogma to experience, and outer expression to inward realisation.’ It is no doubt a great religion, but it is also a simple religion. It does not set out to confuse a person or test their intellectual capabilities. What it wants is the soul’s understanding, to preserve the inner harmony of every human soul. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi: ‘Hinduism is a relentless pursuit after Truth. It is the religion of Truth. Truth is God. Denial of God we have known. Denial of Truth we have not known.’

For the classroom 11–16

Four scriptures The roots of most Hindu scriptures are the four Vedas: the Rig Veda (thoughts), the Sama Veda (prayers and recitation), the Yajur Veda (rituals) and the Atharva Veda (mantras). Vedas are written in old Sanskrit. The 108 Upanishads are the philosophical interpretations and teachings from Vedas by Rishis. Including minor Upanishads, the number goes up to 220. In the Brahma Sutras, Vyas strings together the leading concepts of Vedanta in an ordered manner. The Sutra is an exquisite garland made of Upanishads. They are divided into four chapters. The first chapter is on ‘Harmony’, the second on ‘Non-conflict’, the third on ‘Spiritual Practice’ and the last on ‘Result’. This is an important work on spiritual knowledge which is easy to read and understand, and takes one deep into Hindu philosophy. The Shrimad Bhagavad Gita embodies the supreme spiritual mystery. It contains the essence of all four Vedas. Its style is so simple and elegant that after a little study one can easily follow the structure of its words, but the thought behind those words is deep: even lifelong study does not show one the end of it. It discusses the virtues, glory, essential character, truth, mystery and worship of God. It is a mistake to think that ancient Hinduism is the only part worth studying. Ancient knowledge is complemented by today’s Hinduism, which has much to contribute to the world. In the course of its eternal journey, self-giving has been the soul’s very breath of life and the soul’s light.

Murtis (images or idols) enable us to concentrate our mind on a single object; they act as a focal point for the mind.

A multicultural, multifaith society Today, society is growing more and more multicultural and multifaith. This is a relevant contemporary issue. One must learn to adapt to one’s new surroundings with tolerance, respect and acceptance. To do so, one must be sensitive to other groups and learn about their culture and faith. To live happily in a pluralistic society, it is important to engage in public debate to resolve sensitive issues. Hindus in Britain have arrived from India, East and South Africa as well as other parts of the world. They have come with different experiences and backgrounds. However, their beliefs and practices are the same. New generations of Hindus are born, raised and educated alongside non-Hindu British children. They will have no difficulty in living amicably and harmoniously with others, wherever they are.

I n the classroom 


Amrat talks about five aspects of the study of his religion: history, current practice, philosophy, texts and worship. Give examples of what he says about each of these aspects. Rank them from 1 to 5: which does he think are most important?


Amrat presents Hindu religion (Sanatan Dharma, the ‘Eternal Way’) as united in tolerance and diversity. Which further questions would you like to ask him?


What would critics of Hindu life say about this positive picture of the Hindu community?

Self-criticism and tolerance Lately, Hinduism has become self-critical. In the land of freedom, freedom feeds dynamic thoughts and movements. The freedom of fertile, tolerant spirituality nourishes all religions. I hope that today’s Hinduism is modelling itself on the infinite pattern of the faith. Mythology is a part of every religion. Abstract teachings and subtle ideas are made interesting for the masses through stories, parables and legends. Avatars (appearances of the gods and goddesses on Earth) show the coming of the gods and goddesses to this world. Beautiful images of Krishna or Rama captivate the hearts of devotees and inspire them. Mythology explains and illustrates philosophy using the lives of great humans or of supernatural beings. Keep your intellect at a distance when you study mythology. Intellect is, in fact, a hindrance. Sit like a child and open your heart freely, and then you will understand the great truths revealed by mythology. Hindus don’t worship idols. They worship God. God is allpervading. God lives in every atom of existence. God is all-in-all. Nothing but God exists, everything else is maya (illusion).

9-year-old Raamaansh's collage of pictures illustrates the life of Lord Krishna


Instant RE

Tackling Islamophobia Emma Newby is RE Teacher, Long Stretton High School.

Emma Newby’s Islamophobia display

One thing that really troubled me in our ‘all white’ rural secondary school was that every time I mentioned Muslims, someone would always cough ‘terrorist’. I needed to challenge this attitude immediately. The students are not used to differing beliefs and values in our community and, as a result, they can often be prejudiced and unintentionally racist. I got the initial idea of using the media from my RE Today mailing. In pairs, the students searched ‘Muslim’ on the internet, searched for newspaper articles about 9/11 and watched live news coverage from the time. The students tallied whether each type of media showed positive or negative attitudes towards Muslims. The students then wrote a paragraph on reasons they could suggest about the outcome of the results. This initial focus made them into ‘data gatherers’ – an important skill in enquiring RE. Next, building on the perceptions they were forming, I asked them to write a letter to a newspaper editor explaining how Muslims had been misrepresented in the newspaper. They also compared evidence about 9/11 with the conditions of jihad to come to the conclusion that 9/11 could not be considered a jihad. The students were given a list of things they could include: an introduction about why they were writing the letter, what happened on 11 September 2001, the conditions of jihad, cogent


reasons why 9/11 couldn’t be considered a jihad, their opinion about the extremists who say they are ‘fighting for Islam’, and a final comment about misrepresentation and stereotyping. The students had two hours to complete the letter, including drafts and formatting.

How did they respond? The students responded to the task really well, and they told me why: because they felt that there was a purpose to what they were doing. One student commented that she enjoyed being able to apply everything she had learnt so far about Islam to something that wasn’t like the tests she did in other subjects.

What was good about the way it went? The best thing about this activity was that it really stretched the students’ abilities and out of 150 students there were only a handful that didn’t apply themselves and work to the best of their abilities. Also, it gave the students the opportunity to evaluate in detail, using examples. Many of the students found this very difficult at the start of the activity, but built up their skills in the time they were given.

What do you think was achieved by the activity? I would like to think that by researching more into 9/11 and looking at misrepresentation, the students have

the understanding that not all terrorists are Muslims and not all Muslims are terrorists. I certainly haven’t had any more coughs! This activity really stretched the middleand higher-ability students, and I thought that giving the lower-ability students a structured essay plan would help. However, this was not at all the case! If I decide to do this activity again, I would need to plan more effectively for the lowerability students. This time I made the mistake of expecting all students to have a go at evaluating and finishing what I expected. I often use Blooms taxonomy in the classroom as a method of self assessment for the children. If I were to repeat this activity again, I would make a structure based on Blooms, where the students could work upwards towards the higher-order thinking skills. For example, the first step on the ladder could be that the students describe what happened on 9/11 and comment on the misrepresentation of the media. To achieve higher they could also show that they understand that not all Muslims are terrorists and use examples from extremist groups to support this. To achieve higher levels, they could explain what jihad means and explore the misuse of the concept in the context of 9/11. Emma Newby

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RE today magazine  

Articles, features, policy and all things RE for teachers of religious education.

RE today magazine  

Articles, features, policy and all things RE for teachers of religious education.

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