Big Ideas for Religious Education: Curriculum Design for a 21st Century Education in Religion and Worldviews
Thanks to SOF members and other small charities, we have now been able to build on the Solarity materials that you see here to create a much more substantial online educational resource, called Big Ideas for RE.
Dave Francis, who produced the Solarity resource, has been working with Professor Denise Cush and Dr Barbara Wintersgill, originator of the ‘Big Ideas for Religious Education’ project, to provide educators with a comprehensive set of plans for a radically new curriculum for religion and worldviews.
The expert team employed leading RE teachers, advisers and other educators to write a series of lesson plans covering the Infant, Junior and Secondary sectors. Rather than prepare a ‘traditional’ course of religious education that looks at each religion or worldview one at a time, the proposed new curriculum puts human beliefs, values, experiences and identities at the heart.
The new materials relate learning about worldviews to the needs, interests and experiences of all young people today, including the majority who come from non-religious families, taking account of research findings related to the ‘nones’, i.e. those that identify with no particular religious tradition.
We are well on the way to producing our target of 30 exemplars. That will mean that we are providing at least one unit of lesson plans for each of the six Big Ideas, across the age-ranges of 5-7, 7-9, 9-11, 11-14 and 14-18. And all this has been well-received in the RE world. Here’s what one teacher said about it:
“Really amazing website with unit exemplars with resources, lesson ideas including assessment ideas using the six cognitive processes. Everything is there for teachers. So much work has gone into all this. The progression of the units through the six ideas gives pupils such a good grounding/ understanding in religion and worldviews both today and the future” (Felicity Henchley).
We believe that Big Ideas for RE provides a high-quality, broad-based introduction to understanding humanity, where children and young people explore religions and beliefs openly, rigorously, critically and reflectively, in the context of a changing and globalised world.
Many thanks to all of you who have supported us so far. The Big Ideas for RE website had nearly 1,500 unique users, including many from Scandinavia, North America and Australia, and over 7,000 page views in the first few weeks after launch, which is tremendous. We will continue to publicise the site at key points in the school year.
Our next step will be to evaluate the materials as they are being used in the classroom. Once we have completed our exemplars, we will be looking for a little more funding to put the evaluation phase into action.
In the meantime, do take a look at the website that you have helped to build! We think this is going to be a major contribution to the development of religious education in this country and perhaps in other countries too.
About the Team
Denise Cush is Professor Emerita of Religion and Education, Bath Spa University, where she was Head of Department of Study of Religions. Her interests include Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and alternative spiritualities such as Paganism, as well as religious education internationally. She was Deputy Editor of the British Journal of Religious Education until 2019, and was a member of the national Commission exploring the future of religious education in England (2016-2018). She has an MA in Theology from Oxford University, an MA in Religious Studies from the University of Lancaster, a PhD in Religious Education from the University of Warwick, and an honorary doctorate from the University of Uppsala. She has also been an RE teacher and trainer of both primary and secondary teachers. Publications include A Student’s Approach to Buddhism; Celebrating Planet Earth, a Pagan/ Christian Conversation: First Steps in Interfaith Dialogue (ed.); The Routledge Encyclopaedia of Hinduism (ed. with Robinson & York); and many articles and book chapters on aspects of religious education.
Dave Francis is a trustee of the SOF Network. He is the recently retired Associate Adviser for Bath & North East Somerset SACRE and Deputy Chair of the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC). He is a former Chair of the RE advisers’ association and Lead Consultant for REonline. He worked as a teacher of RE for 14 years, including ten as Head of a Department of Religion, Philosophy and Social Education, and has published several RE text books, as well as practical guides for primary and secondary RE teachers on assessment, ICT, self-evaluation and developing an effective curriculum. He continues to offer a range of continuing professional development training events in RE and spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.
Barbara Wintersgill is an Honorary Research Fellow of the College of Social Sciences and International Studies at the University of Exeter. She was the Professional Officer for religious education (RE) at the National Curriculum Council (1990–93) and then at the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (1993–97). In 1997, she was appointed by Ofsted as HMI and Specialist Subject Adviser for RE and continued in this post until taking early retirement in 2005, after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. She has come out of retirement numerous times to work on projects for Ofsted, the REC, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for RE, Warwick University and the University of Exeter. Her professional interests include research and development of the curriculum and assessment in RE and teenagers’ spirituality. She has written numerous papers, contributed to a number of books, most recently ‘Government national agencies for inspection and curriculum development’ (with Alan Brine) in Religion and Nationhood (ed. Gates) and is the author of Teenage Perspectives on Spirituality (Kindle).
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