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Religious Diversity in Inclusive Schools

Teaching about Religious Diversity in Inclusive Schools: Developing Collaborative Practice between Researchers and Teachers

Rationale

The project, Teaching about Religious Diversity in Inclusive Schools: Developing Collaborative Practice between Researchers and Teachers, is designed to address concerns shared by Westhill Endowment Trust, Warwick Religions and Education Research Unit (WRERU), the National Association of Standing Advisory Councils for Religious Education (NASACRE) and the National Association for Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE). All of these organisations support the view that, in inclusive schools that take children and young people from a range of religious and non-religious backgrounds, religious education should provide knowledge and understanding of Christianity and other religions, and opportunities for young people to discuss in a civil way their own developing views in relation to that learning. At a social level, this includes promoting understanding of different religious traditions and good relationships between members of different religious traditions as fundamental parts of educational practice.The project has a duration of one year and is organised in three stages (initial stage, fieldwork stage and reporting stage). There is scope for future extensions.

Furthermore, the above concerns are consistent with the Council of Europe’s 2008 Recommendation to its 47 member states on teaching about religions and beliefs. As a Europe wide human rights institution, the Council of Europe has prioritised the need for learning about religious diversity in its educational work. The Council of Europe recognises the need to promote understanding of different religious traditions and good relationships between members of different religious traditions as fundamental parts of educational practice.

The above issues relate closely to the vision of the Westhill Endowment Trust to see communities thriving and individual lives fulfilled and to its aim to support religious education projects that enable people to transform their lives and the life of their communities. WRERU embraces the same ideals and has worked very closely with the Council of Europe in order to help relate its work in schools on religious diversity to issues of democratic citizenship, human rights and intercultural understanding, and to ground this work in research and scholarship.

The key Council of Europe publication to inform the project is Signposts (Jackson 2014), a book written by WRERU‘s Founding Director, Professor Robert Jackson, with the aims of summarising Council of Europe recommendations and discussions on the religious dimension of intercultural education and providing bases for implementation in the various member states. In discussing the key themes that it identifies, Signposts gives examples from European research of how particular issues (such as promoting civil classroom dialogue) might be addressed. Signposts also recognises the need for more research-based guidance on the key issues covered. The project aims to address the key themes identified in Signposts in relation to teaching about religious diversity in England and Wales.

Signposts provides reference points and resources for action on a wide range of themes related to teaching about religious diversity: including creating a safe space in the classroom for discussion and dialogue, dealing responsibly with media representations of religions, human rights issues and linking schools to religious communities. A follow-up project based at the Council of Europe-related European Wergeland Centre in Oslo is near completion, through which a Europe-wide teacher education programme based on Signposts will be published. Dr Kevin O'Grady acts as a consultant to this project and has written several of the module chapters. During informal discussions with WRERU colleagues, NATRE and NASACRE have both confirmed that Signposts reflects their own agendas to support and spread high-quality, research-based provision in religious education. In a further article, Robert Jackson also considers UK and Council of Europe policies which emphasise the study of religions and beliefs as a means to counter extremism, which have appeared since the publication of Signposts (Jackson 2016). The project on Teaching about Religious Diversity in Inclusive Schools is one of a number of studies being conducted by members of the Signposts International Research Network (SIRN).

The primary focus of the project Teaching about Religious Diversity in Inclusive Schools: Developing Collaborative Practice between Researchers and Teachers is to assist schools to address the presence in the UK of religious diversity, principally within religious education pedagogy but also bearing in mind that successful pedagogy needs to be supported by whole school policy; both Signposts and the related teacher education resources currently under development take these two related strands into account, and whilst the main activity is working together with RE teachers in a school, we also seek to inform and include their senior managers and governors. Close collaboration limits the number of schools that can participate. Aston Academy, Rotherham, our project partner school, has a large and successful RE faculty. Key staff there, including the Principal and the RE faculty's leader, are keen partners in the project. The school has close and long-established links with the Rotherham SACRE.

The main issue investigated in the project Teaching about Religious Diversity in Inclusive Schools: Developing Collaborative Practice between Researchers and Teachers is how researchers and teachers can collaborate on the improvement of teachers' professional practice, basing such improvement on the findings of research. The starting point for this process is the summary of Signposts materials. The hypothesis of the project is that teachers seeking to use research summaries to transform pedagogy will be helped in this endeavour by direct contact and collaboration with research colleagues.

The model for researcher-teacher collaboration is the action research on RE developed in Kevin O'Grady's MA and PhD research and later in the Warwick REDCo community of practice, which was partly funded by the Westhill Endowment Trust (e.g. O'Grady 2010, 2003; Ipgrave, Jackson and O'Grady eds. 2009); in this model, researchers, teachers and their pupils work jointly on the development and assessment of pedagogy based on the findings of research. In these ways, the research is not only disseminated but extended, because the newly developed pedagogy is reported in further publications. The resulting case studies can provide models for further researcher-teacher collaborations and exemplifications for teachers wishing to make use of research.

Participants

Project Director: Professor Robert Jackson (project overview and progress, identification and selection of key research materials to be disseminated, assistance with establishment of initial dissemination formats, consultation over fieldwork, joint authorship of publications).

Researcher: Dr Kevin O'Grady (creation of initial research dissemination materials, liaison with SACRE and school, fieldwork, management of data set, joint authorship of publications).

Advisory Group: Daniel Hugill (Associate Chair of NATRE), Paul Smalley (Chair of NASACRE), Trevor Cooling (Chair of the RE Council of England and Wales), Ana Perona-Fjelstad (Executive Director of the European Wergeland Centre), Geir Skeie (Professor of Religious Education at Stavanger and Stockholm Universities); this group provides critical commentary and support as the project develops.

Head of RE / teachers of RE/ linked senior managers, governors, Aston Academy: work with researcher to develop teaching programme, evaluate teaching and, where possible, have joint authorship of teacher-level publications; linked senior managers and governors support project, consider wider school policies and implications and, if possible, organise whole-school INSET event.

Aston Academy pupils: work as partners with school staff and researchers through pupil voice activities e.g. interviews on pedagogy and learning.

Aims

  • To select materials from Signposts that are especially relevant to the work of schools in addressing religious diversity. Signposts covers a wide range of relevant issues (interpretive and dialogical pedagogies, safe space, dealing with representations of religions in the media, teaching about non-religious world-views, human rights issues, linking schools to wider communities and organisations): the themes to be investigated will be chosen through discussion with the project school.
  • To assist schools to address the presence of religious diversity, at the levels of policy and pedagogy. This aim refers to promoting understanding of different religious traditions and good relationships between members of different religious traditions as fundamental parts of the practice of schools. Non-religious worldviews are included.
  • To develop, document and publicise effective school policy in relation to religious diversity.
  • To develop, document and publicise effective pedagogy in relation to religious diversity.
  • To document and publicise an effective model of collaboration between researchers, and schools, focused on the dissemination of research.

References

Ipgrave, J., Jackson, R. and O’Grady, K. (eds.) (2009) Researching Religious Education through a Community of Practice: Action Research and the Interpretive Approach (Műnster, Waxmann).

Jackson, R. (2014) ‘Signposts’: Policy and Practice for Teaching about Religions and Non-Religious Worldviews in Intercultural Education, Strasbourg: Council of Europe Publishing. ISBN 9789287179142 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

Jackson, R. (2016) Inclusive Study of Religions and World Views in Schools: Signposts from the Council of Europe, Strasbourg: Council of Europe Publishing.

O'Grady, K. (2010) Researching Religious Education through an Action Research Community of Practice, British Journal of Religious Education 32:2, 119-32.

O'Grady, K. (2003) Motivation in Secondary Religious Education: A Collaborative Investigation with Year Eight Students, British Journal of Religious Education 25:3, 214-25.