Religious Education in a Catholic School Setting

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Within a Catholic school setting, the study of Religious Education (RE) is not just a curricular subject; it is placed at the core of the schools’ vision with the hope of developing respectful and religiously literate young people. From excellent RE children have the knowledge, understanding and skills, as well as the awareness of the demands of religious commitment in everyday life. By placing RE at the center of daily school life, it allows children and young people to engage with and participate in the catholic faith, enhancing the key values and teachings of the faith.

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For example, the Catholic primary school I attended placed prayer very important throughout the day. The teacher would start the day off with a prayer thanking God for the new day, prayers before and after lunch blessing the food we were about to eat and thanking God for the food we had just eaten, and finally a prayer before home time thanking God for his love and for friends and family. Prayer is seen as an essential part of each school day, enabling the community to celebrate the Eucharist. From my experience, praying was the chance to practice the school mission statement and gave me a moment in the hectic school day to reflect. It is here where I become aware of the demands of the Catholic faith.

Key aims and objectives of RE include making sure children have a knowledge and understanding of the Catholic faith, allow young people develop a deeper religious and theological understanding, stimulate children’s imagination and desire for personal meaning, and relate knowledge acquired in RE to other subjects in the National Curriculum.

Another aim, ‘to present an authentic vision of the Church’s moral and social teaching’, can be taught through SMSC development. Religious education presents exclusive opportunities to encourage pupils social, moral, spiritual and cultural development, through a variety of activities and teaching methods. In the case of social development, this could be developed through collaborating and working with other children in table groups. For example, being presented with artifacts of the Jewish faith and asking children to discuss them and what they might be used for. From small discussions, children are encouraged to share their opinion and listen to others, but also work with children of different ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds, which resembles the wider world. Furthermore, in the example of Judaism, a cross curricular link to art can be applied. For example, the Mezuzah is a sacred item in the Jewish home. An activity for the classroom could be children designing their own Mezuzah scrolls, with children decorating it with pictures or symbols that are important to them. Through cultural development, children are given opportunities to explore their own and other religions, and in turn understanding, respecting and celebrating the diverse world we live in.

A way to implement spiritual development could be to use the windows (looking and gazing into the world), mirrors (reflecting) and doors (using creativity to express oneself) approach. It is also where fascination and imagination can excel, and children can start to reflect upon the beliefs and attitudes of other religions. This is the spiritual development section of SMSC. Moral development can be developed through applying using Bible stories. For example, the story of The Good Samaritan can be used when teaching about being kind and helping others, and putting aside racial, social and ethnic differences. Within this one story, there is a lot for children to learn and reflect upon. This could lead into activities for children to engage with, one being hot seating different characters. Again, this brings in cross curricular links, this time being drama. The study of RE can nurture many different attitudes which can be taken into the wider world. A key attitude is respect for all, including learning about the world around us and learning about different religions. Linking to respect would be that acceptance that everyone is different and that we should celebrate diversity. It is important not to treat others differently, regardless of social class, ethnicity, race or disability, as we all belong to God.

For me at primary school, the school mission statement worked well in reinforcing how I should carry myself at school, showing ‘care, courtesy and concern’. To this day, this still resides with me. This highlights the impact a strong school ethos can have on children and young people, which are values and attitudes that are adopted long term. Using storytelling can also nurture attitudes, in this case courage. Stories can help children remember a story, with the meaning of the story developing as they grow. By setting a story in an area you work in, e.g. Twickenham, children relate to the story more as it has real life context to it. For example, using the story of David and Goliath when teaching about being courageous. The storytelling method to teaching RE can be split into implicit and explicit. Implicit stories are non-religious stories that teachers use to discuss issues and themes, that can be taught in the context of RE. By using implicit stories, you can set a story in modern times, which children can relate to more. Whereas explicit stories are religious stories from sacred texts and involve important figures from different faiths.

Another method of delivering the RE curriculum involves systematic and thematic delivery methods. Systematic delivery facilitates learning by dealing with one religion and building a holistic picture of that religion. This encourages sound progression and continuity for children without confusion of other religions being introduced. Focusing on one aspect of religions, eg. Gods, and teaching about Gods across several religions, otherwise known as thematic delivery, facilitates learning by revealing what is similar in religions and be very creative for children. However, this method can confuse children and, in my experience, excludes some of the vital information about religions because it does not ‘fit’ into a theme.

There are two stages to effective teaching of RE: AT1 (learning about) and AT2 (learning from). The AT1 stage is when a topic is introduced, and a focus is identified, for example forgiveness. This could be taught through the parable of the Prodigal Son. Children could be asked to discuss the parable and consider how the father forgave the man who made bad choices. From this, children could think back to a time where they have asked for forgiveness as a result of making a bad choice. This is where AT2 is applied, and children ‘learn from’ the topic and ‘build a bridge between the topic and the child’s personal experience. Cooling referred to this as concept cracking; making a connection between what is being taught and the child’s experience, in turn making the teaching more relevant to that child. A combination of this all links to the continuous development of the whole person who was made in God’s image, resulting in religiously literate pupils.

In all, RE in a catholic school is not just a curricular subject. It is the core of the school ethos and a way for children and young people to practice the Catholic faith every day. RE is an important subject, as it develops an understanding of the many faiths and beliefs in the local community, which reflects the diversity and ever-changing nature of the wider world. By implementing RE into every day practice, children begin to understand that RE and faith does not just relate to the national curriculum but to life. From excellent religious education and effective practice of the Catholic faith, children are aware and accustomed to the demands of religious commitment in life. Through this, children and young people start to become religiously literate and engaged with the Catholic faith, which is a key aim of religious education.

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