The Signposts International Research Network (SIRN), is a group of European researchers and curriculum developers concerned to improve the quality of religious and worldview education in schools. SIRN currently includes researchers from the UK, Sweden and Norway who are conducting school-based research projects on classroom religious and worldview education and others who are engaged in curriculum development related to such research. The curriculum developers include colleagues based at the European Wergeland Centre in Oslo who have produced a teacher training module (see below). All of these scholars are addressing issues identified in a book published by the Council of Europe: Signposts: Policy and practice for teaching about religions and non-religious world views in intercultural education, Strasbourg: Council of Europe Publishing (Jackson 2014).
Warwick Religions and Education Research Unit and SIRN
WRERU’s current (in 2018) contributions to the Signposts International Research Network include the following studies:
‘Teaching about Religious Diversity: Dissemination of Research through Collaborative Practice’: Professor Robert Jackson (WRERU) and Dr Kevin O’Grady (WRERU). This school-based action research project is funded by the Westhill Endowment Trust and will be completed in December 2018. The classroom study focuses on ideas from Signposts on creating a safe space in the classroom for discussion and dialogue, and on dealing responsibly with media representations of religions. http://www.westhillendowment.org/Projects/
Jackson and O’Grady are contributing an article based on their SIRN work to a special issue of the journal Intercultural Education, which will be published early in 2019.
‘Integrating Religious Education and Worldviews Education in Secondary School Classrooms in England and Norway’
Judith Everington (WRERU) and Oddrun Bråten (Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway) are engaging in comparative research which explores issues raised in Signposts concerning the integration of religious education and world views education in secondary school classrooms in England and Norway.
Everington and Bråten are contributing an article based on their SIRN work to a special issue of the journal Intercultural Education, which will be published early in 2019.
Background: The Council of Europe
An approach to learning about religions and beliefs, grounded in human rights, and which adopts an information-based, impartial and dialogical approach, has been developed within the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe, based in Strasbourg, is an inter-governmental human rights organisation, currently with 47 member states.
Since 2002, the Council of Europe has focused on education about religions (and also, since 2008, non-religious convictions) in publicly-funded schools in the 47 member states. The main reasons for including the study of religions in the Council of Europe’s educational work concern social issues related to human rights, citizenship and intercultural education. However, aims concerned with personal development and the value of a broadly-based liberal education are also included. For example, student-to-student dialogue, moderated by teachers, is regarded as an essential component.
An international group of specialists in religious education and intercultural education worked together from 2002 in order to develop the Council of Europe’s approach to ‘the religious dimension of intercultural education’. Representatives of religion and belief organisations across Europe gave their support to this work, and have continued to meet annually with those working in the field of the religious/belief dimension of intercultural education (Council of Europe, 2008a).
As a result of developing this broad approach, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers issued a Recommendation in 2008 to the 47 member states on developing such an educational model suitable for their own national context. In summary, its objectives included:
- Respecting the right to hold a particular belief
- Addressing controversial issues
- Developing a tolerant attitude
- Nurturing sensitivity to the diversity of religions and non-religious convictions
- ‘Provision of a safe learning space to encourage expression without fear of being judged or held to ridicule’
- Developing skills of critical evaluation & reflection
- Fostering ability to analyse and interpret impartially
- Combating prejudice and stereotypes
(Council of Europe, 2008, 7.1)
The Development of Signposts
To promote use of the 2008 Recommendation, the Council of Europe and the European Wergeland Centre set up a joint committee to assist policymakers and practitioners in discussing and applying ideas from the Recommendation in their own national setting. (The European Wergeland Centre is a European resource and teacher-training unit established in 2009 by the Council of Europe in partnership with Norway). This committee distributed a questionnaire to members of the Council of Europe’s Education Committee, representing the 47 member states, asking respondents to identify issues in applying the Recommendation to their own country.
Some common issues were identified in the questionnaire returns. These were addressed in the book Signposts: Policy and practice for teaching about religions and non-religious world views in intercultural education (Jackson, 2014).
Aimed at policymakers and practitioners in member states, Signposts includes 10 chapters:
- The Recommendation: background, issues and challenges
- Introducing Signposts and its key themes
- Terminology associated with teaching about religions and beliefs
- Competence and didactics for understanding religions
- The classroom as a safe space
- The representation of religions in media
- Non-religious convictions and world views
- Human rights issues
- Linking schools to wider communities and organisations
- Promoting further discussion and action
The chapters aim to enable readers to explore issues raised in relation to their own national context. Chapters 3-9 address the main issues identified in the questionnaire returns, giving examples from recent research which address them, and offering examples of good practice from member states. Central issues, such as the development of teachers’ and students’ competence, handling representations of religions in the media, and making the classroom a safe space for civil dialogue are introduced, and suggestions are supported by examples from research in religious and worldview education in Europe, and examples of current good practice.
The publication of Signposts has been followed by the development of a teacher training module which will be published during 2018 by the European Wergeland Centre (EWC). The EWC teacher training module team includes colleagues from Albania, Greece, Norway, Sweden and the UK. In the module, different Signposts chapters are summarised into key points, and linked to other Council of Europe themes, e.g. Competences for Democratic Culture. Personal and professional implications are identified for teachers. Following each chapter summary, follow-up activities are presented, enabling trainers to help teachers to reflect on their practice and improve their pedagogy. The module is suitable for university-based or school-based teacher training. It is designed flexibly so that all sections of the module could be used, or some selected to address particular needs. A report of work undertaken so far on this teacher training module can be read at: http://researchforre.reonline.org.uk/research_report/signposts-guidance-for-re-teachers-from-the-council-of-europe-and-a-related-teacher-training-module/?show_me=research_report&about=6&taxes=cpd
The Signposts International Research Network (SIRN) – has been formed in order to undertake school-based research which addresses some of the pedagogical issues identified in Signposts. Meetings of researchers who belong to the Network have been held at the University of Warwick, Stockholm University, Stavanger University and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, and several projects are being developed, based in different national settings. Members of SIRN are contributing a symposium on the relationship between religious education and intercultural education to the International Seminar on Religious Education and Values in July 2018, and the papers will be published in a special issue of the journal Intercultural Education early in 2019.
Council of Europe (2008) Recommendation CM/Rec (2008) 12 of the Committee of Ministers to Member States on the Dimension of Religions and Nonreligious Convictions within Intercultural Education, 7.1 http://www.theewc.org/Content/Library/COE-Steering-documents/Recommendations/Recommendation-CM-Rec-2008-12-On-the-dimension-of-religions-and-non-religious-convictions-within-intercultural-education
Council of Europe (2008a) 'Council of Europe Exchanges on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue', available online at: https://www.coe.int/en/web/cm/exchanges
Jackson 2014 Signposts: Policy and practice for teaching about religions and non-religious world views in intercultural education, Strasbourg: Council of Europe Publishing. (pdf freely downloadable from: http://www.theewc.org/Content/Library/COE-Steering-documents/Recommendations/Signposts-Policy-and-practice-for-teaching-about-religions-and-non-religious-world-views-in-intercultural-education