Monday, 5 December 2016

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 portfolio of evidence; practical demonstration/assignment; or coursework.

Simon Lemon, one of the RE teachers involved in the pilot feels that the qualification fills an important gap and enhances the suite of qualifications already available from local exams body, CCEA, which schools can offer.

Picture: Joanne Patterson (OCN NI) and Simon Lemon (Movilla HS) who helped to develop the qualification.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

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 religions.

At the time of writing, a review of the GCSE Specification for RE is currently being undertaken by the local exam board, CCEA, and so it seems an apt time for a wider debate around the kind of religious education we, as a society, see as appropriate for the future citizens, workers and leaders of the region.

What kind of religious education is appropriate for Northern Ireland?

To explore this question in more detail we might break it down further: what kind of religious education is appropriate for a post-conflict society where religion has been a significant marker of division? What type of religious education is most appropriate for a society learning to live with the religious traditions of new-comers to its shores? What type of religious education is appropriate in a school system with a pupil population that remains largely divided by religion? What kind of religious education is appropriate in a region where schools with a Christian ethos predominate? 

To respond to a review of the GCSE requires us to stand back and consider responses to these challenging questions. Of course, the responses evoked by these questions will be many and varied but in formulating an answer it is important to be mindful of the recent Living with Difference report on religious education (discussed in another post on this blog) which makes a strong case for issues of religious plurality (internal and external to faith traditions) to be taken seriously when studying religion and for secular perspectives to be included when studying world-views in schools.

Guiding principles

If we are to take plurality seriously and if we agree that a core function of religious education is to contribute to a more cohesive society then it is possible to take a step closer to knowing what an appropriate religious education in Northern Ireland might look like. What follows are five principles which I believe could be foundational in developing a religious education appropriate for Northern Ireland as we look forward:

 An appropriate religious education for Northern Ireland should: 
  1. Adopt an inclusive approach which truly reflects the plurality of religious belief in the region and does not exclude those with non-religious perspectives, but reflects the fact that Christianity remains the dominant religious tradition
  2. Help pupils to become aware of the complexity of religious difference in their society including diversity within Christian traditions and in the range of other religious and non-religious traditions which exist locally 
  3. Encourage inter-belief dialogue, that is, dialogue within and between faith traditions as well as with those of no religion and provide pupils with the skills and competencies to do so
  4. Equip pupils to deal with sectarianism, stereotyping and prejudice and to explore the many efforts, past and present, of those who have promoted reconciliation and championed dialogue between those with conflicting beliefs

What sort of curriculum at Key Stage 4 would satisfy these principles? 

If we accept these principles then substantial changes are required to the current CCEA GCSE Specification. At present schools have the option of choosing one module (for a short course GCSE) or two modules (for a full course GCSE) from a list of 8 modules (listed below). This means many pupils study religious education at Key Stage 4 through the lens of a single religion or denomination (the most popular choices are shown in a separate post on this blog).

Changes based on the guiding principles above would guarantee that all pupils have access to knowledge and skills which would equip them to live with diversity and prepare them to dialogue with others about philosophical, theological and ethical questions in ways that are respectful, informed and self-reflective, whatever modules they might choose within the Specification. Such changes might include the following:

1. A statement of a 'minimum entitlement' of content and skills which should be common for all students of RE, in addition to the options chosen. This would focus upon themes of diversity and dialogue. Indicative content could be: religious conflict, sectarianism, reconciliation, ecumenism, local religious diversity, humanism and secularism, inter-faith dialogue, religion and education. Skills could include: the ability to understand and explore diversity in religion and belief in my community; the ability to participate in inter-belief dialogue; and the ability to reflect upon inter-belief encounters. Both content and skills could be assessed in creative ways using 'Controlled Assessment' methods already used by other subjects. 

2. In conformity with the requirement of the Northern Ireland Core Syllabus for RE, the study of the Christian church should not be limited to a single tradition and always require the study of one Protestant tradition and the Catholic Church. 

3. To make it more inclusive, the ethical module should be renamed 'Ethical Perspectives' and students should be provided with content which makes it possible for a range of religious and non-religious perspectives to be included. Any Specification would reflect principle 1 above in terms of the content covered.

4. To make it more inclusive, the content of the Philosophy module should be adjusted to make it possible for a wider range of religious and non-religious perspectives to be included. Any Specification would reflect principle 1 above in terms of the content covered.

This is not an exhaustive list but it does illustrate some of the changes that are needed if we aim for a religious education that is appropriate for a society which has more work to do in coming to terms with its historical religious differences as well as adjusting to the increasing plurality of beliefs of a new generation of young people.

Whether you agree or disagree, you will be able to have your say until 19 Feb by responding to the consultation.

Current CCEA GCSE modules:

  • The Christian Church through a Study of the Catholic Church and One Protestant Tradition;
  • The Christian Church with a Focus on EITHER the Catholic Church OR the Protestant Tradition;
  • The Revelation of God and the Christian Church;
  • Christianity through a Study of the Gospel of Matthew;
  • Christianity through a Study of the Gospel of Mark;
  • World Religions: Islam;
  • World Religions: Judaism;
  • An Introduction to Christian Ethics; and/or 
  • An Introduction to Philosophy of Religion.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

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 Ethics. As yet, the form the area will take in the curriculum is not settled, for example whether it will function as a discrete subject or will be integrated in a cross-curricular way in related areas such as personal and social education, history and geography. However, there is a clear sense in the proposals for ERB and Ethics which are currently out for consultation that the study of religions, beliefs and ethics cannot be identical with forms of denominational religious education. In contrast to faith formation programmes, ERBE is to be based on an approach that is pluralist, inclusive and constructivist in relation to values formation. This formal separation of two approaches to the study of religion - one confessional the other inclusive - is an attempt to balance two rights: a parent's right to an education for their child in conformity with their faith tradition and the right of children to learn about religions and cultures in an inclusive environment where one tradition or set of values is not privileged over another.

A New Settlement - England

 Similar to the debate in Ireland, a report In England has noted the need to distinguish between different types of religious education as a starting point to debating the future of the subject. The report  by Charles Clarke and Linda Woodhead A New Settlement: Religion and Beliefs in Schools distinguishes between three forms of learning about religion: indoctrination, faith development and religious education. In this context 'religious education' represents the inclusive approach (while in Ireland the same title is likely to be used of confessional approaches). This confusion about names indicates just how important it is to give attention to what actually is taking place in different classrooms under the title of religious education. Researchers at Goldsmiths College (in RE for Real) have found that there is general sympathy with the suggestion for a name change among parents, teachers and pupils in England; some examples they have suggested are: Religious Awareness, Religious Literacy, Belief, ethics and values education.
However, commentators, such as Mark Chater in his blog post, are quick to point out that a change in name will only be of value if it is accompanied by structural change including a rewriting of the legislation around religious education and the development of new structures for support, resourcing and organisation of the subject. Without these, he believes the subject will merely stumble on in its current state ('low status, weak and decaying structures, confused purpose, and low standards') until it fades away.

Change in Northern Ireland

So what does all of this mean for Northern Ireland? Well, none of the reports mentioned above have any authority over policy here but they do signal that a shift is taking place in the conceptualisation of religious education on these islands and it is likely that this will impact upon the local scene at some point in the future. In order to understand what these impacts might be it is worth noting what the reports above have in common: they recognise that a broad understanding of religion is part of a twenty-first century education; current arrangements for Religious Education are based upon legal frameworks from a very different era, elements of which are no longer fit for purpose; issues of religious plurality (internal and external to faith traditions) must be taken seriously when studying religion; and secular perspectives must not be ignored when studying world-views in schools.

If similar assumptions become accepted locally it will raise a large number of questions for debate, some of the most interesting being:
  • What types of religious education are taught in our schools and do we need to formally distinguish between confessional and inclusive forms? If so, how might this be organised at Primary and Post-Primary level? And what should the subject(s) be called?
  • Is our current provision of religious education capable of preparing our young people for life in an increasingly plural and increasingly secular twenty-first century? For example, to what extent is the current syllabus capable of delivering a 'diverse' and 'real' education about religion across all Key Stages? (The RE for Real report indicated that young people are keen to learn about religion in broad terms (reflecting a wide diversity) and as lived in the real lives of people)
  • Are the existing arrangements and support structures for the subject adequate? What changes to current arrangements, including the legal status of the subject, should we be considering as we move further into the twenty-first century? 

Thursday, 18 December 2014

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 learning and to celebrate the success RE departments make to whole school outcomes.

To qualify for the award the team from Banbridge had to demonstrate their quality across four categories: learners and learning; teachers and teaching; curriculum; subject leadership; and continuing professional development.

Warren commented: "It has allowed us to raise the profile of RE in school and to celebrate our good practice – in particular how we contribute to whole school issues like Literacy, and ICT. We are proud of the strategies and the varied resources we use to engage students, from an emphasis on Thinking Skills, educational visits and speakers to opportunities to encourage spiritual and moral development. Not forgetting, our consistently excellent results at GCSE and A Level!"

"I thoroughly enjoyed our educational visits such as to the Crumlin Road Gaol, and our trip to Poland…RE focuses on topics that are relevant to issues today, it helps us to have an open mind and respect other people’s opinions." (Banbridge Academy Pupil)
It is fourteen years since any guidance on what counts as quality RE has been given by the inspecting authority in Northern Ireland (The ETI). In addition, the subject is exempt from formal inspection by the ETI. Given these facts, the introduction of the REQM to Northern Ireland could provide a much needed tool whereby RE departments can employ a structured framework to reflect upon and measure their performance against a set of agreed quality criteria and, where there is good practice, it can be acknowledged, celebrated and shared. Certainly, the department from Banbridge feel that others could benefit from being involved in the REQM: "We would recommend the process – a useful way to audit practice in the Department, encourage team building, raise the profile of the subject and stimulate pupil interest and involvement."

Monday, 17 November 2014

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 big picture and show the numbers entered from the region in all exam boards for each RE qualification - full course, short course and entry level. The first thing of note is that the number of GCSE candidates (full and short course) from Northern Ireland has remained reasonably steady ranging between 17410 at its lowest and 18201 at its highest in the last four years. On the other hand, there has been a gradual decline in those opting for the Entry Level certificate, from 1121 entries in 2010 to 814 entries in 2014.

Local Success Story 

The picture becomes a little more interesting when the JCQ figures are set alongside statistics made available to me by local exam board, CCEA. The figures for the total number of pupils entered for RE GCSE (full and short courses) at CCEA have undergone a dramatic increase, as shown below.

It is possible to see there has been a very significant swing away from English exam boards at GCSE to the point where, last year, only 2543 students were entered for non-CCEA boards. This massive shift in numbers to CCEA clearly is an enormous success story in what has been a very competitive market for many years.  and comes as a result of Catholic Maintained schools.

Popular Modules

As well as overall entries, it is worth looking at the number of candidates entered for each of the ten CCEA units of study.  In terms of popularity the most successful course in the last academic year, by far, was Christian Ethics followed in second and third spots by the units on textual studies - Mark and Matthew respectively. One particularly interesting story from this list concerns the unit in fourth place, Philosophy of Religion, which has shown the greatest rate of increase in its growth - from one entry in 2010 to close to one thousand in 2014. Whether this rate of increase will continue remains to be seen, but it is fair to say that these statistics as a whole indicate some interesting changes in the content being delivered through RE in recent years. Certainly, the experience of GCSE RE for a large group of young people in 2014 is significantly different from their counterparts who sat the former qualification in 2004 which was based around the Core Syllabus areas of learning: the Revelation of God, the Christian Church and Christian Morality.

What lies ahead?

In England consultations on the next generation of RE exam specifications are underway at both GCSE and A-level. The Department of Education and the exam regulator, Ofqual, are both conducting separate consultation exercises on the content (pdf) and the assessment arrangements (pdf) respectively. Among the proposals for the new GCSE qualification for 2016 is the compulsory study of TWO religions and the updating of the Assessment Objectives to reflect this: Assessment Objective 1 (AO1) specifies that pupils should demonstrate knowledge and understanding of 'similarities and differences between and within religions and beliefs'.

Even with education being a devolved matter, this consultation is not irrelevant to RE teachers in Northern Ireland and is likely to raise some issues which require consideration going forward. The local exam authority in Northern Ireland, CCEA, will be under some pressure to maintain the standard and quality of their qualifications by aligning them closely to the changes which emerge in England. Yet, in relation to RE, the legislative context at Key Stage 4 in the shape of the Core Syllabus, only specifies one religion for study, Christianity, and the limited take-up of courses in Islam and Judaism shown in the figures above suggest that a requirement to compare and contrast 'between and within religions' would mark a dramatic change in the teaching of KS4 RE for the majority of teachers.

Some will see this as an opportunity for positive change, to widen the scope of the subject and to bring KS4 into line with KS3, where the study of two religions other than Christianity is compulsory, but others (a majority, I suspect) may be less enthusiastic and argue for a singular focus on Christianity to remain, and the study of more than one religion to be optional. It is at moments like this when a forum for discussion around such issues is valuable and important. Colleagues in England are already engaged in that discussion; you can read a collection of blogs at REConsult or engage in the twitter debate by searching #reconsult.  Perhaps a separate local consultation on the changes to GCSE RE could be considered here in Northern Ireland, but failing that you can add your comments below!

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

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 maintain the right to both, but both men's efforts at voicing religious difference, characterised by superiority and insult, have resulted in remarks that are deeply offensive to Muslims.  Arguably, the low level of religious literacy among local community leaders in respect of global religious traditions is a significant part of the problem - a point that should be of concern to religious educators, but it should also serve as a reminder of the important role RE teachers have in providing young people with a broad, open-minded and plural education in religion. Indeed, in my view, the episode has highlighted the duty of a religious educator in two important areas: religious knowledge and religious dialogue.

Religious Knowledge

Most obviously there is a duty to provide balanced and reliable religious knowledge about Islam, as well as other global religions which are represented locally.

Representing diversity within religions 
In this regard, it is worth reminding ourselves of one simple principle arising from the work of Professor Robert Jackson on teaching about World Religions - avoid stereotype and ensure young people understand there is diversity within each religion by representing its beliefs, practices and traditions in a tri-fold way that shows religions have:
- universal or globally shared aspects of the wider religious tradition;
- regional, denominational or group perspectives which individuals
belong to;
- a multitude of personal interpretations and individual lived expressions.

This is a simple but important response to the monolithic image of Islam presented by Pastor McConnell that so easily falls prey to stereotyping and prejudice.

Religious Dialogue 

Secondly, there is a duty to give pupils real opportunities to engage in religious dialogue. There is no better way to prepare young people for life in a religiously plural society than to give them practice in speaking with those who hold different views. Young people need clear guidance on how to engage in religious debate intelligently and how to voice religious difference respectfully and they need to be given real opportunities where they can actually participate in intercultural dialogue or, at the very least, practise the skills with their peers. Thankfully there are a large number of resources on hand to help the RE teacher prioritise this work in their classroom. Here are my top five:

1. Come face-to-face with difference (Face to Faith)

The Face to Faith project offers young people a chance to engage in sustained dialogue through online forums and video conferencing. It also prepares pupils for these encounters by providing teachers with some excellent curriculum materials that they can use in RE lessons to get them ready for inter-cultural dialogue. There have already been some successes in linking schools in Northern Ireland with others around the world (as reported in this blog) and the organisation is very keen for more schools to be involved. If you are interested you can register on their website.

2. Be philosophical (Sapere)

Philosophy for Children (P4C) is a movement that has been around for some time and is well-known for its worthwhile methods, such as the Community of Enquiry, which develop thinking skills in young people from Primary ages up. The UK-based version is SAPERE and in recent years it has also developed a strong tradition of training young people in the skills of debate and dialogue. One practitioner, Jason Buckley (aka The Philosophy Man) is especially good in this field and he maintains an email list to which he sends regular tips and ideas for turning your classroom into a forum for debate and dialogue. You can sign-up at The Philosophy Man.

3. Reflect on encounters with difference (Autobiography of Intercultural Encounter )

In a response to a call from the Council of Europe for more educational resources to address issues of intolerance and racism and to promote tolerance and social cohesion across Europe the Autobiography of Intercultural Encounter was developed. This resource is available in two formats - suitable for younger and older children. While the materials are likely to require a bit of adaptation, they will reward those teachers who invest some effort in doing so.

4. Reach out to local faith networks (Northern Ireland Interfaith Forum)

The Northern Ireland Interfaith Forum is now in its twenty-first year and has served as an important meeting point for people of different faiths across the region who share a commitment to interfaith dialogue. During this time it has also been a valuable, if underused, 'living resource' for RE teachers seeking to introduce their pupils to a diversity of people and places of faith. The website provides contact details for a range of local faith communities who regularly accommodate educational visits.

5. Commit to compassion (Charter for Compassion)

The Charter for Compassion is a statement of values based upon the Golden Rule that is found in many of the world's religions. As well as asking individuals to sign the charter, the organisation encourages groups, schools, businesses and even cities to commit to acting compassionately, developing compassionate policies and setting goals that increase compassionate living. Voices is the education wing of the organisation which provides curriculum materials and news updates about the work of Charter for Compassion of relevance to schools. The guidelines on how to become a compassionate school could provide a great starting point for a project that actively engages young people in changing their world for the better by focusing upon how they treat others.

Monday, 16 September 2013

What is the minimum time requirement for RE in Post-Primary Schools in Northern Ireland?

**Please note that the original article has been amended with new information about legislation governing the timetabling of Religious Education**

During the last year, a number of RE teachers have asked me about the legal position of RE in the curriculum in Northern Ireland in relation to the amount of time allocated to the subject at Key Stages 3 and 4 - is there a minimum time requirement? Inevitably, the reason for the question is that their RE department is losing out in the battle over curriculum time. One of the teachers I spoke with was facing a fifty percent reduction in time at Key Stage 3 to a single 30 minute period per week.

There is a legal obligation on schools to deliver RE (see the Education (NI) Order 1986) but, until recently, I was not aware of any clear directive on the issue of timetabling. Thankfully, however, in response to an earlier version of this post, Bill Latimer (RE Adviser with the Belfast Board) has made the situation somewhat clearer. He notes that there are statutory rules from 1972 and 1973 which cover this issue and 'any recent revisions of RE in statute have subsumed them and not disbanded them.'  They are as follows:

Statutory Rules (N.I.) 1973 No. 403
(3). In all schools there shall be set apart for the purpose of Religious Education at least three periods within each week:
Provided that in the case of a class composed wholly or mainly of pupils following a course leading to an examination for General Certificate of Education the number of periods within each week may be reduced to two. 

Statutory Rules (N.I.) 21 (4) 1973 No. 402
Religious Education (instruction) must have at least one half hour per day or two & a half hours per week.

Despite the statutory rules above, my experience from visiting lots of different schools is that the picture is extremely varied in relation to the number of hours of contact time at KS3 and KS4 but, as time goes by, the number of schools with reduced time is increasing. I would say that thirty minutes per week is at the very bottom end of the time allocated at KS3/4 for 'compulsory RE' while, at the other end, it can be as much as five hours per week for full course GCSE study at Key Stage 4.  This impression of RE departments in the UK being under pressure is confirmed in research carried out by Jim Conroy (reported in another post in this blog).  And this is compounded in Northern Ireland, where professional support from education and library boards has all but disappeared.

The only statement on the issue of time allocation from the Education and Training Inspectorate is a brief comment in the 'Evaluating RE' document, where it is stated:
"The organisation of the curriculum for RE can be considered good when... sufficient time-tabled time is given to RE as a discrete subject" (ETI 2000, p. 14)

Perhaps the lack of conformity to the statutory rules says a lot about the lack of official quality control over the subject by the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI). While there is some inspection of religious education in Post-Primary schools (where the school invites inspectors to do so), it is not a requirement, and the ETI rarely make the subject a focus for attention. Indeed, as noted previously in this blog, it is thirteen years since the last publication of any RE-specific document by the Inspectorate. 

As for solutions to this situation? In the short term, if you are under threat of losing time, I strongly suggest drawing the attention of senior staff to the statutory rules above.

In the longer term though, my view is, that the subject requires some external forms of quality control to ensure that teaching and learning in RE departments achieve consistently high standards, and that the achievements of such departments are recognised by a wide audience, inside and outside the school walls. Of course, these achievements need not be restricted to successes in exam results, but should include a recognition of the contribution of RE departments within the wider school and community and to the social, spiritual and moral development of young people.  Interestingly, the RE Council of England and Wales has recently piloted a Quality Mark scheme for RE departments in those regions.  The scheme has two purposes:
 "It recognises good practice in RE and also provides a powerful tool for development. Schools which have applied for the award have found that it affirms the work they are already doing, raises the profile of the subject and gives them ideas and confidence for developing their practice even further."  
Perhaps a similar scheme for schools in Northern Ireland could be a possible way forward to help RE departments raise their status, celebrate their achievements and secure a fair slice of timetable allocation.