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Baselining Religious Education in Northern Ireland

Development planning and target setting have, by now, become firmly established aspects of school management processes. And with the development planning process comes the recognition that, to plan effectively for where you're going, you must first know where you are starting from. The importance of 'baselining' is well-known and involves recognising existing strengths and identifying areas for improvement. Doing so means that plans are likely to be more achievable and, because they emerge out of a detailed understanding of current practice, they are realistic and more effective. In terms of our understanding of practice in religious education in Northern Ireland, however, the baseline evidence remains limited and fragmentary. Perhaps the most obvious example being that the subject remains formally exempt from the ETI inspection process. Where churches exercise their right to inspect, no reports are put in the public domain. Where schools request ETI inspectors to obse
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Teachers Pilot New Key Stage 4 Qualification

The Open College Network, Northern Ireland ( OCN NI ) quietly launched a new Key Stage 4 qualification in Religious Education during the summer of 2016 and already it has generated quite a bit of interest among RE teachers. Around a dozen schools from the Maintained, Controlled and Integrated sectors are piloting the qualification which is designed to provide an alternative for those pupils who are unlikely to access the top range of grades at GCSE level. The specification of the Level 2 qualification includes units in 'Exploring Personal Identity and Faith', 'Prejudice and Reconciliation' and 'Exploring Religious Traditions within Own Community'. These and other units contain content broadly similar to what teachers are already familiar with as part of the NI Core Syllabus. What is particularly innovative is the style of assessment. Rather than examinations, teachers can choose the assessment method they feel is best suited to their students from: a portfoli

What sort of Religious Education is appropriate for Northern Ireland? A response to the CCEA GCSE RE Review.

One of the positives of my job as a teacher educator is that I regularly get to talk with student teachers  of RE  about their ideals and vision for their profession and the subject as a whole. While there is variety in what they see as the ultimate goal of religious education, the most persistent aspiration is that the subject will contribute to a more cohesive society. This is often articulated with reference to both sectarianism and the many examples of hate-crimes  in Northern Ireland  against those of minority faith traditions in the region. What young teachers of the subject seem to hold instinctively is the conviction that the type of religious education appropriate for Northern Ireland is one which recognises the reality of religious difference; acknowledges that negative and harmful expressions of religion exist; understands the importance of using education as a vehicle to explore those differences and address negative stereotypes as well as providing accurate knowledge of re

Changing Times - Are We Entering a New Phase in the Study of Religion?

New Phase? Are we entering a new phase in the study of religion in education? A UK report on religion and belief in public life, Living with Difference , has recommended that change in religious education is needed on a number of fronts, from a reform of the law on collective worship to improved inspection procedures. In addition it states: "In Northern Ireland the present subject of RE should be renamed and broadened to include more religions and non-religious worldviews on the same basis as religions. It should be given an explicitly educational rather than confessional focus, and applied to all state-funded schools." Some of our close neighbours , including the Republic of Ireland and England,  have already made a  start in debating these issues. Education about Religions, Beliefs and Ethics - Ireland The focus of innovation in the Republic of Ireland is the introduction of a new curricular area in Primary Schools: Education about Religions, Beliefs and Eth

First School in Northern Ireland to Achieve a Quality Mark for Religious Education

Banbridge Academy have become the first school in Northern Ireland to achieve a Quality Mark in Religious Education! Many congratulations are due to Warren Brown (HoD) and Sarah Hassard who richly deserve recognition for their excellent work. Raymond Pollock (Principal), Warren Brown (Head of RE), Sarah Hassard (Teacher of RE) Speaking of why they applied for the award, Warren stated: "We decided to take part in the process as our school is one which recognises the value of self evaluation – it allowed our department to identify what we are doing well. Our focus in school recently has been the development of a Teaching and Learning Policy – so it related very well to this." The REQM is an established award, developed by the RE Council , which recognises high performing RE departments.  It is designed to assist those who wish to engage in a formal self-improvement process but, importantly, it also provides an opportunity to showcase high quality teaching and learnin

Changing Patterns in RE GCSE across Northern Ireland

Those who have been teaching for any length of time will know that curriculum reform is a regular feature of the educational world and it will be of little surprise for most RE teachers in Northern Ireland to learn that the content and assessment arrangements for GCSE and A level are currently under review, with new qualifications expected to be in place for 2016.  But as well as top-down reform, teachers in RE have a reasonable degree of flexibility to make adjustments in their provision of the subject from year to year. Indeed, from talking to RE teachers in different schools across Northern Ireland in recent years, I have had a sense that quite a few departments have been altering their provision for Key Stage 4 pupils - some changing exam boards and others changing their module choices - and so I was interested to investigate further in order to discover the extent of the changes over the last four years. Figures published by the  Joint Council for Qualifications  (JCQ) give the

Voicing Religious Difference - lessons for the RE classroom

Among a number of infamous comments that Belfast-based Pastor, James McConnell, made about Muslims in a sermon at his Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle last month, was the statement: 'People say there may be some good Muslims in Britain - that may be so - but I don't trust them!' Subsequently, the Pastor was given support by the First Minister of Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson, who said he wouldn't trust Muslims who fully supported Sharia law; neither would he trust them for spiritual guidance, but he would 'trust them to go down to the shops' for him. Following wide-spread condemnation of his comments as inflammatory and irresponsible, the First Minister has apologised to local Muslim representatives, but across social media a good deal of others have sprung to the defence of Peter Robinson and Pastor McConnell trumpeting their right of free speech and the right of individuals to make religious truth-claims in public fora. Certainly, there is a need to main