Old vs. New 

Two terms, albeit short terms, into teaching the new specification I have had a chance to reflect on the positives and negatives of each specification. Just place this into the context I have been teaching optional OCR GCSE for five  years and prior to that full course OCR GCSE for the whole cohort nine years.

Now back to the current situation I have one year 11 OCR GCSE class and one year 10 AQA GCSE class. I switched from OCR to AQA the several reasons including the extended question, as I just felt that my current students wouldn’t cope with a 15 mark question or the variation in exam structure between the examination papers.

Now to the nitty gritty, my current year elevens , an optional class of ten students, have largely loved the old OCR specification, they have engaged with some challeging lessons. They have grown in confidence with the examination structure, even the previously dreaded 12 mark essay style question.  Mostly they have enjoyed the balance of P &E elements of the course.  

Moving on to the year 10, an optional class of twelve students, have found the AQA specification I’m really hard going. In term one we studied the Beliefs and Teachings of Christianity,  this had a very mixed response. Several students understood it was a proper academic study and really grasped the nettle so to speak, the remainder rolled their eyes and moaned continually. Now why did they choose the course if they were going to moan you may ask. Ah well you see those that moaned had chosen RS as a second or third choice and they really wanted to study Food Tech or something similar. 

However in saying all of this once we swapped to Religion and Family for term two the attitudes started to improve. Why..it was ‘real life’ of course. They all know the course is RS with a sprinkling of P&E but I can’t change their attitudes. They want discussion and little writing. I guess they want an easy lesson and are scared of hard work. 

Now I personally have found teaching all the new specification enjoyable. I have relished the challenge of a purer form of RS. I have however found it very hard to keep the students engaged.  Indeed at times I have wanted to jack it all in. 

So what about the future? If I’m brutality honest I do not see KS4 RS carrying on at my school but I will however not give up! I am ‘up for the challenge’. For at long last I see the full potential of my subject. Gone is the airy fairy, watered down version under the guise of P&E. 

So as I reflect on term 1 and 2 despite my personal concerns and challenges I’m happy to see my subject come out of the shadows and stand on its own feet as the subject it was always meant to be.  

Once more unto the breach.

This time 15 years ago I was about to embark on my NQT year. I only planned  do 3 years however as time went on I realised this was definitely the career for me. Over the last 15 years I have seen a lot of things change some things for the good and other things not so.

On Monday I start my second year as Head of  Religious Studies in my school. I am fortunate in many ways that I had no year 11 go through last year, so in theory I shoul have more time than my colleagues who have to do results analysis. Yet in reality I know I will have lots to do. This is primarily because  I  have four non-specialists working with me and two GCSE specifications to deliver.  This academic year will be a real test of my character and resolve I can envisage that already. I say this not because I doubt my colleagues but because I feel government changes have lost sight of the students behind the statistics and exams. I have had 3 months to get my head around the new specification and if I’m honest I don’t feel prepared. How can I be prepared when one of the recommended textbooks isn’t published until November!

However I know I do not face this struggle in isolation. I know other colleagues are going to be experiencing similar in their subjects. I also know that I have access to many RE specialists at a click of a button . The online world truly saved my skin  many times last year.  Indeed SLT have actually made me a T&L facilitator with a focus on helping colleagues use Twitter etc to support their classroom practice. How that will go down is anyone’s guess.

I’m also excited to start this year. Having consecutive GCSE RS grpups was previously unheard of at my school.

I’m also excited by the fact the new year brings with it more conferences and teach meets, I just love meeting with like minded people.

So as I step out into this new academic year I go in the knowledge that together we can make a difference.

 

 

 

 

 

They think it’s all over. ..

Today marks the end of the craziest term I’ve had teaching for a very long time.  Now before you think it was exam pressure I didn’t actually have year 11 this academic year. It wasn’t even the amount of paperwork I have to do as a Head of department.  No it was the whole option process that caused it to be crazy!

Let me take you back to the beginning of March. It was a Thursday evening and 127 year 9s had their options evening. Staff were lined up like market stall traders in the entrance hall of the school. The hall was packed with attentive parents listening to SLT and the students were trying to look interested.

Over the course of the evening I spoke to several families and I handed out the vast majority of my ‘brochures’. I left that evening feeling optimistic, indeed I even publicly shared my positivity online.

Three weeks later the reality check hit in. Only 10 students had made RS first choice so it was highly unlikely to run as a GCSE.  I was devastated for myself and the students that had opted to study it. 😢

Now we are not an academy and we should be following our agreed syllabus which stipulates all students in KS4 must have a minimum of 40 hours a year of Religious Education.

Now in reality that was never going to be the case, and if I was truthful I didn’t want to push an entire cohort through short course. Indeed the Head teacher and I had already agreed this would actually be detrimental to the growth of the subject.  I needed another strategy so  Igathered my thoughts and presented my case to SLT in a professional but clear manner. I outlined the Agreed syllabus requirements, I reminded them of my temendous results but most of all I let the students do the talking. They took up the challenge with gusto.  Lobbying the Deputy Head. My top set 9s were walking around the  school trying to convince others to opt for RS. The commitment to the cause was palpable.

The end result?..A class of 14. Now that may not sound great but the cohort is only 127. So I have nearly 11% of the cohort opting for RS. 😊 This is also the first time in 7 years that GCSE has run for consecutive years.

So this half term I will be rejoicing in the fact I have a new specification to select and plan.

Finally thank you to all my RS colleagues near and far who gave me the courage to fight on! You really did Save RE 😊

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Day Fractions Broke My Brain…

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I was 9. My Polaroid snapshot memory hasn’t faded with time. I remember which table I was sitting at. The one nearest the door to the art cupboard. I remember the art cupboard. Full of recycled giant coffee containers and stacks of paint tins with exciting and exotic names – burnt umber, cyan, raw sienna, magenta… Full of possibilities. But on that day, in that moment, I sat with my back to cupboard door – and to all the possibilities – and stared at the fractions before me. And I cried.

34 years later and I get fractions now. Well, you know, I get them enough to teach (most of) the basics to my class of 9 and 10 year olds without weeping. Just.

But, I am beginning to see that as my head clammed up and my tear ducts opened, not only did I turn my back on the…

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Are the students working hard?

Last Monday we were asked as an entire staff body to consider what it meant to show high expectations in our lessons. This was a direct result of a local authority inspection. One of the biggest things that came out was the need for challenge and students working hard in lessons. Now no-one can deny the need to motivate and encourage students but the comment that left me thinking more than any other was we need to get the students to work harder.

work-smart-not-hard-vector-1946321Just to place this all in context I teach in a non selective school in Kent. We have students with incredibly low reading ages and families who face social deprivation. When students arrive at our doors many feel like failures as their friends have gone off to grammar school and they have not.
So how do we get them to work harder or should that be smarter? The first thing I would like to suggest is that students are not given their target grade rather they are all encourage to aim for the highest grade. Now please understand me I am not wanting to see students fail rather I am trying to build up their confidence and self esteem. Just imagine for a second you were given a target grade that was the lowest in your class how would you feel? How would you respond in the lessons? Now imagine your teacher said everyone can be successful and here are the tools to do it? Wouldn’t you feel more valuable? Wouldn’t you naturally want to do your best?
Secondly we need to allow for creativity.

If a student struggles to write loads, and many I teach do, why not let them draw on the desks if that helps? (I have a student in my GCSE class who now does exactly that when making notes and his exam grade has increased by two in 4 months). If learning key words is an issue then I’ll happily let my students play key word ‘basketball’ with play pit balls.

Finally I want to encourage questioning and curiosity. Now teaching Religious studies makes this a little easier for me. But if we do not welcome healthy questioning in our classroom then where else will they feel ‘safe’ to do it?
So let us reclaim our classrooms and raise the bar of success!

‘Avoiding Heresy’

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On Saturday I attended the London RE hub conference. It really was a wonderful day and it was wonderful to catch up with fellow passionate teachers of Religious Studies. However the day was also challenging  as we were encouraged to develop our teaching of  Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

I spent the day focusing on Christianity.  Father Patrick Morrow led a session on the Trinity.  It was during the session that I deeply pondered the way in which I teach difficult concepts to my students.

I realise that quite often go for simplicity I do not delve deep into the theological or historical background to the particular concept that I am teaching. This is particularly apparent when teaching about the Trinity, quite often I will reach for the analogies of a three leaf clover or the H2O example.  A lot has been written about these poor explanations yet these analogies are of course reinforced by the textbooks we use.  Every time I refer to anyone of these I am not only belittling the true essence of biblical teaching, and in doing so I commit heresy,  but I am also denying the students the opportunity to draw their own conclusions about the religious and historical significance of the topic.

So where do I go from here?  I  think the most important thing is to acknowledge the fact that some of the topics we teach are complex.  There is no point beating ourselves up about how we have previously taught some of the issues that even the church with all its history and theological awareness can not fully agree on. However moving forward with the new GCSE and A level specs it is important to ensure our students have access to a range of quality accessible resources that stimulate discussion and critique in a way they can engage with. We need time to explore the wider context.  We need to allow our students to ask the questions others may shy away from.

So the next time I teach about the Trinity or any other key religious concept I will no longer gloss over it in simplistic terms. Rather I will grasp fully the challenge before me.