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RE, not just for Christmas

Emma is a Teaching Assistant who works for Protocol Education in WolverhamptonEmma shares her thoughts of RE teaching in schools.

RE, not just for Christmas

Christmas is on its way. If you believe the retailers it’s been here since September. It’s nearly time for nativity costumes to be dusted off in schools across the country as children are herded towards assembly halls to practice singing Silent Night and trying not to pick their noses while they stand on stage pointing at cardboard stars. But religion in schools isn’t just an annual occurrence. It’s a part of the curriculum and in faith schools a part of the ethos. But there needs to be a balance struck.

A friend drew my attention to a Muslim school nearby her home in Derby which had come under massive scrutiny from Ofsted recently. One of the failings was in it’s treatment of girls and female staff. With reports that girls were made to sit at the back of the class and all female staff were forced to wear head scarves. That of course was just one school, but it made me think of my own experiences of religion in schools.

Next week I am booked in to work at a Catholic primary school. I’ve been there before, in fact I had one of my first student placements there, many moons ago. I told my best friend I was returning there. She’d worked there through Protocol as well and despite not being Catholic had loved the atmosphere. “Isn’t it wonderful?” She mused. “They have prayers in the staffroom before the school day starts.” To be honest though it just made me feel a little uncomfortable.

In my own primary school, many, many moons ago (I’m older than I look) religion was part of the daily routine. Pray to your own God they’d say to a sea of white faces, as if the one Muslim pupil hadn’t all ready thought to do that. Then we’d sing hymns. I liked that. Don’t get me wrong I’ll never win the X Factor, but I always enjoyed a good “Oh come all ye faithful” in the morning. Occasionally, we’d have an RE lesson and get to cut out and paste the five K’s to a picture of a Sikh boy. But that would be as exciting as it got.

The problem is that there isn’t enough balance in a lot of schools. This isn’t just my opinion either, Ofsted’s recent report stated that 6 out of 10 schools were failing in their delivery of RE due to “weaknesses in teachers’ understanding of the subject”. I can believe that. I recently came out of a long term position in a year three class. I worked a long side a permanent TA who used to teach RE every Friday, while the teacher was on PPA. “I can talk about Christianity until the cows come home” she once told me “But when it comes to Sikhism, Islam or Judaism, I haven’t got a clue.” I have to agree with her there. During my teaching days (I was a teacher once upon a time) I used to leave the RE lessons for a cover teacher wherever possible.

Thinking back to what I affectionately refer to as the “year of Hell” also known as the P.G.C.E year I can understand why teachers are afraid of teaching RE. The grand total of time we spent on learning how to teach this subject was one day. Most of that was taken up with a visit to a Buddhist temple. So, when as a fresh faced, terrified NQT I was asked to teach about religion I panicked and passed the buck. And I’m not the only one.
Some people argue that in this increasingly secular society that religion shouldn’t play such a part in education. I disagree. Society is diverse and becoming increasingly so. Understanding about different religions to your own can only increase tolerance and acceptance of others. What could be more important than that? Remember though RE is not just for Christmas.

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Tags: EmmaH, Protocol Education, Supply Teaching, Teaching Assistant, RE, Christmas, Teaching, Learning

Category: Australian Teachers


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