Does Religious Education Work? : An Analysis of the Aims, Practices and Models of Effectiveness in Religious Education across the UK

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Education

Abstract

This 3 year project is intended to create the single most comprehensive study to date of the state of religious education across the combined jurisdictions of the United Kingdom. Beginning with an analysis of the documentary and legislative material, we intend to unpack (with some of the key experts in the policy / professional / academic communities) the various kinds of claims made with respect to religious education in the very different contexts of England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Using a combination of philosophical, theological and detailed ethnographic approaches, we intend conducting a study of the local (school focused) social, cultural and pedagogical practices which shape the delivery of religious education.

Central to the project design is the engagement of selected Religious Education teachers as partner 'research practitioners,' with a view to assisting them in evaluating the effectiveness of their own pedagogical practices. Central to the study will be the creation of a detailed ethnographic analysis of students' lived experience of religious education as a direct or mediated shaping influence.

In particular we shall address the legitimacy and value of a range of (sometimes conflicting) claims about the purposes and purposefulness of the enterprise of religious education. This will involve asking questions such as, what are the claims different communities make about religious education? On what epistemological and other assumptions are they based? Are these assumptions susceptible to evidence? What are the dominant beliefs about the nature of society, personhood and childhood held in different jurisdictions and by opponents and proponents of the practices of religious education? Is there a better model of investigation which enables us to have a more profound insight into the nature of religious education as a complex social practice?

Perhaps most significantly, we will consider ways in which religious education does or does not (measurably) conduce to much vaunted notions of civic involvement and harmony or indeed impact on the development of knowledge and respect for the other. Philosophically this will entail a consideration of what is meant ontologically, epistemologically and culturally by the terms stranger and other. We will also examine whether such notions are locally determined and if so what impact this might have on the practices and outworkings of religious education.

An original feature of this project is the bringing to bear on religious education a range of analytical frameworks displacing the too common perception that religious education practitioners and social scientists often face each other as professional strangers. Our project brings an end to this institutional estrangement through a process of interdisciplinary work drawing on experts in the fields of textual analysis, secondary education, religious education, sociology, ethnography, pedagogy, values education, religious plurality and childhood studies. Hence team members grounded in philosophical traditions will begin by asking what is meant by effective religious education in various contexts and whether or not claims to efficacy are coherent and consistent. Those with a religious education background will critically engage with the very particular ways that social science has approached and interpreted religion and personhood. Those within the humanities and social science tradition will explicate the varied consequences of viewing Religious Education as reflecting certain kinds of social and cultural practice around such matters as control, behaviour and civic virtue.

We think that what will emerge will be a nuanced and comprehensive map of religious education in Britain which will include politically and pedagogically helpful information on policy coherence, teacher and student dispositions and pedagogical practices. It will also offer important insights into the varied jurisdictions of the UK.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description RE in Britain is drastically under-resourced, intellectually conflicted, torn between competing aims, and rapidly becoming the dumping ground of the curriculum.
Exploitation Route Design and organise workshops and professional training for teachers and educational professionals in the UK.
Sectors Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description As part of the Religion and Society Programme, in which Does RE Work? was integral, a series of Westminster Faith Debates was launched in February 2012. These debates were designed to bring the best research and thinking on religion into public debate. Conroy discussed the project findings at the debate which addressed the question of 'What's the Place of Faith in Schools?' held on 22 February 2012 in Whitehall. Other participants included high-profile public figures Richard Dawkins and John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford and Chair of the Church of England's Board of Education. To date, the YouTube video of the debate has received approximately c.20760 views. Conroy drew on the research findings to argue that RE in Britain is drastically under-resourced, intellectually conflicted, torn between competing aims, and rapidly becoming the dumping ground of the curriculum. Conroy pointed out that schools spend less money and less time on RE than on any other examination subject. The findings from the research that many schools spend less than £1 per pupil a year, as well as the conceptual confusions around delivery figured prominently in the discussion and coverage of the debate. The Westminster Faith Debate received extensive coverage in the media and in this way the research findings from the project were used to influence the public and political debate around RE in schools. The research significantly contributed to public understandings about the state of RE in British schools at a time when the place of religion in society was being debated. It was featured by numerous media outlets, including The Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Metro, The Guardian Teacher Network, The Tablet, The Scottish Catholic Observer, and BBC News Online. The ESRC featured the research on 2 occasions in its Britain In series, in 2009 and 2011. Additionally, The Times Education Supplement, the market-leading education publication in Scotland, featured the research twice (11 March 2011; 2 March 2012) in its main publication and also on TES Connect (8 October 2010), which provides free online resources to teaching professionals. In February 2012, it also featured on the website of the European Wergeland Centre, a resource centre on education for intercultural understanding, human rights and democratic citizenship based in Oslo. Conroy gave live news interviews and participated in debates on the research for BBC Radio 4 (26 February 2012) and BBC Radio 5 Live (22 February 2012). Baumfield and Conroy gave evidence to the Religious Education Council's for England and Wales (REC) on-going review of RE, which it carried out with the support of Culham St Gabriel's Trust and the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on RE in 2012. Baumfield presented the research to the Expert Panel of REC's Phase 1 Subject Review of Religious Education in England in late 2012. The final Phase 1 Report published on 16 January 2013 cites Baumfield's contribution and findings from the Does RE Work? project when drawing conclusions and making recommendations about the appropriate aims of RE in English schools. The REC RE Review Project Manager responsible for drafting the report noted that the impact of the research was strongest in this early part of the study where 'the Expert Panel considered the findings of the project...and called Vivienne Baumfield to speak at the second meeting of the panel (in Birmingham) in person'. The Project Manager also met with Conroy in September 2012 and noted that the report was helpful 'specifically on the importance of subject knowledge; the danger of RE spreading itself too thinly when, on insufficient curriculum time, teachers tried to make too many claims for the impact of the subject on pupils'. These observations, she states helped 'to triangulate with other sources of evidence used in the Review'. The Chair of the Expert Panel also noted the usefulness of the emergent research findings from the Does RE Work? Project at the Birmingham meeting, going on further to highlight that the research 'was particularly useful in giving the REC review expert panel a broader perspective, ... in that the Glasgow team had partly based its evidence on visiting a range of schools...in England as well as Scotland. One of the findings that was noted and discussed by the expert panel was that there has been a tendency for the RE community to spread justifications for the value of RE in schools too wide. The resultant REC report made an important contribution to the evidence base for the APPG's Inquiry on Religious Education. Additionally, the RE lead officer at Ofsted has commented robustly on the influence of the project on his own recent work and the field more generally. As part of a project to assist the Equality and Human Rights Commission (the Commission) in thinking about its mandate for 'religion or belief' and in setting priorities for research, Conroy presented the research to the Commission at a Glasgow-based Expert Seminar on 7 May 2009 (c.60). The Commission held three Expert Seminars in London, Lancaster and Glasgow, bringing together academics, practitioners, policy-makers and members of the Commission. Conroy was able to draw from the emerging research findings to contribute to the discussion of RE and religious literacy as it related to the work and remit of the Commission. The final report by the Commission on 'Religion or belief': Identifying issues and priorities', uses the research and Conroy's representations of it to highlight the need for new approaches to RE provision and research. Conroy and Baumfield used the research findings to design and organise workshops and professional training for teachers and educational professionals in the UK, in particular in Scotland and Cornwall. In Scotland : Conroy and Baumfield were invited to present the annual lecture for the Association of Religious Education Teachers in Scotland in May (11-12) 2010 and May (8-9) 2013. Additionally, Conroy used the research findings in a keynote presentation to the 2009 Religious Education in Roman Catholic Schools conference organised by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education (HMIE) for approximately 150 teachers and education professionals. The conference was designed to explore good practice of how effective, innovative practitioners in pre-school, primary, secondary and special schools were working together to implement RE. Conroy's presentation of the emerging findings from the Does RE Work? project provided a stimulus upon which teachers were subsequently required to reflect in further CPD sessions. Cornwall: As well as designing and facilitating several day-long workshops on the research in Salford (c.150) and 2-day workshops to all the Head Teachers and senior staff of Catholic schools in Newcastle (c.300), Conroy shared the research with Cornwall Standing Advisory Committee for RE (SACRE) who then circulated the research report to all 32 Cornish Secondary Schools in July 2011 to use as a base for their self-evaluation in the coming academic year. The research was subsequently used as a basis for discussion with secondary Heads of RE at their Conference in the autumn of 2011. Additionally, as the SACRE County Advisor for RE in Cornwall notes: 'the research paper influenced the SACRE Agreed Syllabus for RE in a number of ways, including: • The clarification of the aims and purposes of RE in terms of the syllabus; • A closer attention to the content of RE and its relationship to the programmes of study for RE, based on the National Framework for RE (QCA 2004); • The content of the implementation training which looked specifically at the liminal nature of RE in many schools as it sought to justify itself in relation to other curriculum areas and the emerging demands on schools in relation RE as a tool for social melioration.' Cornwall County Council's use of the research culminated in Conroy delivering the 2012 Annual SACRE Lecture (c.100) in Truro on 19 October 2012. The following sources exist to corroborate the impact Contribution to public and political debate 1. Westminster Faith Debate, 22 February 2012 YouTube video [link]; representative sample of media coverage at Westminster Faith debate page [link]; BBC Radio 4 You and Yours 21 Feb 2012; Daily Mail 22 Feb 2012; BBC News Online 21 Feb 2012; Guardian Teacher Network, 22 Feb 2012; Huffington Post 22 Feb 2012 2. REC Report Phase 1 Subject Review of Religious Education in England, 16 January, 2013: [link] 3. Equality and Human Rights Commission, Religion or belief': Identifying issues and priorities', 2009, EHRC Report 48: [link] 4. Statement from Chair of the Religious Education Council, including corroborative comments from REC RE Review Project Manager and Chair of Expert Panel [available from HEI] 5. Statement from Director of Culham's St. Gabriel's to support impact of research on the work with APPG on RE [available from HEI] 6. National Lead for RE at Ofsted Statement attesting to research impact on Ofsted's review of RE [available from HEI] Contribution to continuing professional development 7. Statement from SACRE County Advisor for RE, Cornwall, Statement quoted in §4 above [available from HEI] 8. 2009 HMIE Conference on Religious Education in Roman Catholic Schools, [Video link]
First Year Of Impact 2009
Sector Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Cornwall Education Authority 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Conroy shared the research with Cornwall Standing Advisory Committee for RE (SACRE) who then circulated the research report to all 32 Cornish Secondary Schools in July 2011 to use as a base for their self-evaluation in the coming academic year. The research was subsequently used as a basis for discussion with secondary Heads of RE at their Conference in the autumn of 2011.
Cornwall County Council's use of the research culminated in Conroy delivering the 2012 Annual SACRE Lecture (c.100) in Truro on 19 October 2012.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011,2012
URL https://www.cornwall.gov.uk/media/3621686/SACRE-Newsletter-Spring-2012.pdf
 
Description Evidence to Policy Bodies 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Baumfield and Conroy gave evidence to the Religious Education Council's for England and Wales (REC) on-going review of RE, which it carried out with the support of Culham St Gabriel's Trust and the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on RE in 2012. Baumfield presented the research to the Expert Panel of REC's Phase 1 Subject Review of Religious Education in England in late 2012. The final Phase 1 Report published on 16 January 2013 cites Baumfield's contribution and findings from the Does RE Work? project when drawing conclusions and making recommendations about the appropriate aims of RE in English schools.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013
 
Description Head Teacher Workshops 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Designed and facilitated 4 day-long workshops on the research in Salford (c.150)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009,2010
 
Description Keynote at HMIE RME conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact In 2009 Conroy delivered the keynote lecture at the Religious Education in Roman Catholic Schools conference organised by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education (HMIE) for approximately 150 teachers and education professionals. The conference was designed to explore good practice of how effective, innovative practitioners in pre-school, primary, secondary and special schools were working together to implement RE. Conroy's presentation of the emerging findings from the Does RE Work? project provided a stimulus upon which teachers were subsequently required to reflect in further CPD sessions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
URL http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/video/r/video_tcm4621204.asp
 
Description Multiple newspaper and media engagements 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The research significantly contributed to public understandings about the state of RE in British schools at a time when the place of religion in society was being debated. It was featured by numerous media outlets, including The Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Metro, The Guardian Teacher Network, The Tablet, The Scottish Catholic Observer, and BBC News Online. The ESRC featured the research on 2 occasions in its Britain In series, in 2009 and 2011. Additionally, The Times Education Supplement, the market-leading education publication in Scotland, featured the research twice (11 March 2011; 2 March 2012) in its main publication and also on TES Connect (8 October 2010), which provides free online resources to teaching professionals. In February 2012, it also featured on the website of the European Wergeland Centre, a resource centre on education for intercultural understanding, human rights and democratic citizenship based in Oslo. Conroy gave live news interviews and participated in debates on the research for BBC Radio 4 (26 February 2012) and BBC Radio 5 Live (22 February 2012).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009,2010,2011,2012
 
Description Multiple newspaper and media engagements 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The research significantly contributed to public understandings about the state of RE in British schools at a time when the place of religion in society was being debated. It was featured by numerous media outlets, including The Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Metro, The Guardian Teacher Network, The Tablet, The Scottish Catholic Observer, and BBC News Online. The ESRC featured the research on 2 occasions in its Britain In series, in 2009 and 2011. Additionally, The Times Education Supplement, the market-leading education publication in Scotland, featured the research twice (11 March 2011; 2 March 2012) in its main publication and also on TES Connect (8 October 2010), which provides free online resources to teaching professionals. In February 2012, it also featured on the website of the European Wergeland Centre, a resource centre on education for intercultural understanding, human rights and democratic citizenship based in Oslo. Conroy gave live news interviews and participated in debates on the research for BBC Radio 4 (26 February 2012) and BBC Radio 5 Live (22 February 2012).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009,2010,2011,2012
 
Description Presentation to Australian Educators 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Keynote lecture to Victorian Association of RE teachers Australia
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
 
Description Presentation to the Equality and Human Rights commission 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact As part of a project to assist the Equality and Human Rights Commission (the Commission) in thinking about its mandate for 'religion or belief' and in setting priorities for research, Conroy presented the research to the Commission at a Glasgow-based Expert Seminar on 7 May 2009 (c.60). The Commission held three Expert Seminars in London, Lancaster and Glasgow, bringing together academics, practitioners, policy-makers and members of the Commission.
Conroy was able to draw from the emerging research findings to contribute to the discussion of RE and religious literacy as it related to the work and remit of the Commission. The final report by the Commission on 'Religion or belief': Identifying issues and priorities', uses the research and
Conroy's representations of it to highlight the need for new approaches to RE provision and research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
 
Description Westminster Faith Debates 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact As part of the Religion and Society Programme, in which Does RE Work? was integral, a series of Westminster Faith Debates was launched in February 2012. These debates were designed to bring the best research and thinking on religion into public debate. Professor Conroy discussed the project findings at the debate which addressed the question of 'What's the Place of Faith in Schools?' held on 22 February 2012 in Whitehall. Other participants included high-profile public figures Richard Dawkins and John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford and Chair of the Church of England's Board of Education. To date, the YouTube video of the debate has received approximately 20 760 views.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ea9l3OurAv0
 
Description Workshop and Lecture ATRES Scotland 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Baumfield May (8-9) 2013 used the research findings (in a follow up to convoy's earlier presentations)to deliver a keynote presentation to the Association for Religious Education Scotland.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Workshops Hexham and Newcastle 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Conroy designed and facilitated 3X 2-day workshops to all the Head Teachers and senior staff of Catholic schools in Newcastle (c.300)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Workshops for Scottish Teachers 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Scotland : Conroy printed the work at the annual lecture for the Association of Religious Education Teachers in Scotland in May (11-12) 2010
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010