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The DCSF Project

Materials Used in Schools to Teach World Religions


The starting point of this project was an acknowledgement of the commitment made in all sectors of school education (maintained, independent, voluntary aided, academies) to the promotion of community cohesion, and tolerance and harmony between different cultural traditions. The project intended to build on this by working with schools across England to find out what materials were available for use in religious education classes, and to assess their potential for creating greater understanding of religion, beliefs and religious diversity in a plural society. It brought together for the first time perspectives on, and experiences of, religious education from maintained schools, independent schools and schools with a religious character.


In relation to maintained and independent, primary and secondary schools in England, the aims of the project were to:

  • examine the materials available to schools for teaching and learning about and from the principal religions in England, to support community cohesion and promote religious understanding amongst pupils.
  • explore which materials were commonly used by schools, what key factors schools considered when selecting materials, and how those materials were used in class
  • identify any improvements that could be made to materials to enable a fuller understanding of the different religions and beliefs in our society and support community cohesion. The research will indicate whether there is consensus about what makes an effective RE resource, and if so, whether it is possible to draw out generic criteria to help schools decide which materials would be the most useful for their particular religious education needs

Research design and methods 

The project used both quantitative and qualitative methods and was divided into three inter-related strands.

Strand 1 – a review of available materials

i) A sample of published materials were reviewed by a panel of experts consisting of members of faith groups, academic experts and professional RE experts.

ii) The panel reviewed materials identified in Strands 2 and 3 as those that:

  • were most widely used by schools
  • deal most substantially with community cohesion issues and inter-faith relations

iii) We then analysed the reports from the panel of experts in order to make recommendations.

Strand 2 - a quantitative Survey of materials used in schools

i) A self-completion questionnaire was sent to RE subject leaders in schools of all types selected randomly within each category.

ii) Subject leaders were asked to identify materials which were used by:

  • teachers in the preparation of lessons, including those for personal instruction;
  • teachers and by students during lessons;
  • students during their own independent researches.

Strand 3 - qualitative Case Studies

i) Qualitative case studies were conducted in 10 primary and 10 secondary schools, selected from maintained and independent schools of all types, in order to provide more detailed information on the use and reception of materials in the classroom and examples of good practice

ii) Case study visits to schools included the following activities:

  • Document analysis (e.g. the RE syllabus used by the school)
  • Visual ethnography (e.g. observation of visual images around the school that relate to religion, religious diversity and community cohesion
  • Lesson observations (e.g. to see how materials are used)
  • Semi-structured interviews (e.g. with the subject leader, head teachers and pupils)
  • Focus groups (pupils).

Throughout the project there was ongoing consultation between the research groups involved in the three strands, the schools involved in the case studies and the experts from the different faith communities.

Time scale

July 2008 – December 2009

Project outcomes

Project report

The UK Government's Department for Children, Schools and Families has now published the report of this large scale mixed methods study conducted by Warwick Religions and Education Research Unit (WRERU) on materials used to teach about world religions in schools in England. The study will be of interest to anyone concerned with education about religions and beliefs.

The report(PDF Document), appendices(PDF Document), research brief(PDF Document) (a summary of the report) and audit(PDF Document) are all available.

'The Religious Education Council of England and Wales welcomes the publication of this major research study, commissioned and funded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families and produced by the Warwick Religions and Education Research Unit, at the University of Warwick by a team led by Professor Robert Jackson.

The report identifies many examples of good professional practice, teachers' use of a range of pedagogies and approaches to learning and their creative use of resources, particularly web-based materials. The report also highlights a number of serious weaknesses which the REC now calls on the DCSF, publishers and RE professional organisations to address. It identifies the ways in which teachers use RE to promote community cohesion and to develop personal and social values, positive attitudes towards those of other religions, and critical thinking.' (Professor Brian Gates, Chair, The Religious Education Council of England and Wales)


Francis, L., J., & Robbins, M. (2011). Teaching secondary RE at faith schools in England and Wales: Listening to the teachers. Journal of Beliefs and Values, 32 (2), 219-233. ISSN 1361 7672

Francis, L. J., & Robbins, M. (2010). Teachers at faith schools in England and Wales: State of research. Theo-Web: Zeitschrift für Religionspädagogik, 9 (1), 141-159. ISSN 1863 0502.

J. Ipgrave, J. Miller and P. Hopkins (2010) Responses of three Muslim Majority Primary Schools in England to the Islamic Faith of their Pupils in Journal of International Migration and Integration Vol 11, No.1

J. Ipgrave (2012) Conversations between the religious and secular in English schools in Religious Education, Vol 107, No. 1.

Jackson, R. (2010) Materials Used to Teach about World Religions in Schools in England: A Summary, Religion & Education, 37(2), 179-182. (USA)

Conference papers

Fancourt, N. 2009 Faith in schools: religious education and Jewish faith schools. Paper presented at Limmud conference, Warwick. December 2009

Ipgrave, J. 2010 Dialogues between the religious and the secular in English schools at ‘Religious-Distinctions’, The British Academy, London 14th -16th January

Jackson, R. 2010: Keynote at DCSF launch of Warwick Report on Materials used to Teach about World Religions in Schools in England, London : Department for Children, Schools and Families, Southwark Cathedral, 29 January

Jackson, R. 2010, Keynote at Department for Education seminar on ‘Warwick Research on Materials Used to Teach about World Religions: Taking Forward the Recommendations for the Sector', Westminster Central Hall, London, 17 May.

Ipgrave, J. 2011 Current Trends in Multi-Faith Education With Young Children in the United Kingdom at Interreligiöse Bildung in Kindertagesstätten, Universität Tübingen, 5th – 6th May

Ipgrave, J. 2011 From Story books to Bullet Points: Comparing the Status of Books in Primary and Secondary RE, and the implications for the Bible in school" in Biblical Literacy and the Curriculum, University of Sheffield 25th - 28th May

Fancourt, N. 2011 English boarding schools: the (un)importance of locality. Conference paper presented at ENRECA conference. London, May 2011.


Ipgrave, J. 2010 Faith Schools Seminar: being a faith community and being a faith school in the community for school leaders, with the Christian Muslim Forum, Lambeth Palace April 28th

On Wednesday 28th July 2010 Dr Julia Ipgrave organised a seminar at Lambeth Palace with the Christian Muslim Forum and Three Faiths Forum for a large group of teachers, headteachers, governors of Jewish, Church and Muslim primary schools plus some local advisors. This included presentations from the case study Jewish, Muslim and Church of England primary schools and workshops on issues to do with teaching about other faiths, religion through the curriculum and community links. The seminar was very positively received by those who participated.

Ipgrave, J. & Fancourt N. 2010 Materials Used to Teach about World Religions in Schools, Warwick Religions and Education Research Unit Open Seminar, Tuesday 12th October

Ipgrave, J. 2011 "A Place for Faith Schools?", seminar at Blackfriars Hall in Oxford, 22nd October

Interview for REsource

The design of the research, its main findings and recommendations are discussed in an interview(Word Document) with Professor Robert Jackson, the project co-ordinator, and Dr Bill Gent, Editor of REsource.

Contact details

Professor Robert Jackson
Director, Warwick Religions and Education Research Unit
Institute of Education
University of Warwick
Coventry CV4 7AL