Commentary - 8 minute read
Ewan Brady, OCR Religious Studies Subject Advisor
Most OCR subjects have a forum to bring together stakeholders from universities, Initial Teacher Training providers, subject associations, museums, publishers, schools and colleges and more. Forums meet once or twice a year.
The consultative forums were originally set up before the recent General Qualifications (GQ) reforms, as a place where we could discuss subject content and plans for our specifications and assessments.
They are still vital as they enable us to discuss the teacher and student experience of the new specifications, as well as teacher support, future plans and issues in the subject.
We had a packed day this year, which started with a warm welcome and updates from David Summers, OCR Stakeholder Relationships Manager, and me, as the Subject Advisor for Religious Studies (RS).
David discussed current educational policy most relevant to the Religious Studies forum including evaluating GQ reforms, changes to Key Stage 4 technical awards and pressures on the curriculum.
I talked about developments in our GCSE and A Level Religious Studies over the past year including new resources, face to face and online CPD, network meetings and appearances at conferences.
Our first guest speaker was Dr David Lundie, Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Glasgow. He spoke about his recent report ‘GCSE Religious Studies: At a crossroads’, which covers the significant impact that GQ reforms have had.
Some of his key points were:
Our second speaker was Professor Bob Bowie, Professor of Religion and Worldviews Education, Canterbury Christ Church University. He spoke about his recent research on teachers using texts and hermeneutics and his report ‘Opening the door to Hermeneutical RE’.
The principles of the hermeneutical approach include:
His findings indicate that students are positive about engaging with longer extracts. The approach leads to deeper levels of conversations.
Teachers think hermeneutics at Key Stage 3 would be helpful for learning about differences between views. It helps with argumentation. Teachers are explaining about author, audience and the context of the teachings. They believe that this approach would lead to better GCSE responses.
Our third speaker of the day was Shammi Rahman, Head of Humanities at Denbigh School, in Milton Keynes. Denbigh offers both OCR GCSE and OCR A Level RS.
Shammi talked through what Denbigh students learn about in their Key Stage 3 curriculum which the RE department has redeveloped in recent years. This includes the study of the six world religious traditions and introductions to philosophy and ethics. These changes have led to increasing numbers at A Level where they now have over 50 students.
Teachers at Denbigh see our offerings as most appropriate for their students. At GCSE it is a rigorous course and they have high expectations of their students.
At A Level they study Developments in Islamic Thought (DIT). Although this has been a challenge due to the lack of a textbook, they have worked hard to develop their own supporting resources. They have had excellent results in the DIT exam and have found that the Philosophy and Ethics components support the study of Islam well.
Shammi also mentioned other key points in the school’s success:
Our final speaker of the day was Jack Symes, Teacher of Philosophy and founder, author and host of The Panpsycast podcast.
Jack spoke to us about the development and success of the podcast, which started in February 2016. It is a weekly ‘informal and informative’ philosophy podcast inspiring and supporting students, teachers, academics, and freethinkers worldwide.
The show has covered our A Level RS specification for Philosophy of Religion, Ethics and Developments in Christian Thought, as well as a range of other topics about philosophy and theology.
The goal of each episode is to make exciting and challenging research accessible to students, teachers, academics and the general public. The podcast is made up of either round table discussions or interviews with big thinkers like Peter Singer and Rachael Wiseman.
The podcast is supported by Westhill Endowment and Culham St Gabriel’s Trust, as well as the show’s patrons. They now have about 75,000 listeners and every episode is available for free on all major platforms including iTunes and Google Play.
After both morning and afternoon sessions we had healthy discussions about the talks and the issues raised. (The views or opinions expressed below do not necessarily represent those of OCR unless otherwise specifically stated.)
Points raised in the morning discussion:
In the afternoon discussion, following the talks by Shammi and Jack, we focussed on what people are currently doing to promote RE/RS and what more could be done:
So, all in all, it was a great day – packed with informative talks and useful discussions.
Thank you to our four speakers and all our members for attending this year’s forum. We are planning on holding our next Forum in Spring 2021.
If you have any questions about any aspects of this blog or our RS forum you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, you can also follow us @OCR_RS.
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Ewan Brady, OCR Subject Advisor
Ewan Brady joined OCR as a subject specialist in June 2014. Since joining OCR Ewan has been responsible for a number of subjects including Law, Government and Politics and Sociology. Ewan led the redevelopment of our new AS and A Levels in Law for first teaching in 2017. He took over responsibility for Religious Studies as Subject Advisor in 2017.
Ewan taught for 16 years in Scotland and England and has eight years of leadership experience in humanities, teaching subjects including history, law, politics, citizenship and religious studies.