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It was in October 2004 that the Department for Education and Skills (DFES) and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), jointly published the Non-Statutory National Framework for R.E., which only applies to R.E. provision in England. The document was produced on the understanding that it would be used mainly by Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education (SACREs) and agreed syllabus Conferences (ASCs) within each Local Education Authority (LEA). The document has the remit of providing national guidelines for the teaching of R.E. It was meant to be used by local agreed syllabus conferences for the development of agreed syllabuses for R.E., and by faith communities for the creation of R.E. programmes. Furthermore, the Framework was intended to help schools to make appropriate links between R.E. and other subjects, such as for instance on key concepts like diversity. In this sense the government appeared to be building on their previous efforts to set up a common Framework of curricular aims owing to the fact that the 2000 National Curriculum also contained many aims for education; White (2004). It was hoped that the Framework document would help agreed syllabus conferences and schools to plan more effectively in the provision of R.E. and towards agreed national standards.
In the foreword of the Non-Statutory National Framework by the then Secretary of State for Education and Skills; Charles Clarke, the intention of the Framework was made explicit. In the first paragraph of the national
Framework Charles Clarke declared
‘This non-statutory national Framework has been produced to support those with responsibility for the provision and quality of religious education in maintained schools. It lies at the heart of our policies to raise standards in the learning and teaching of religious education. It sets attainment targets for learning. The Framework therefore gives local education authorities, Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education, relevant authorities with responsibility for schools with a religious character, teachers, pupils, parents, employers and their wider communities a clear and shared understanding of the knowledge and skills that young people will gain at school. It allows schools to meet the individual learning needs of pupils and develop a distinctive character and ethos, rooted in their local communities. It also provides a Framework within which all partners in education can support young people on the road to further learning’.
This statement reflects the commitment of the architects of the Framework to empowering organisations involved in providing R.E. The core agenda is to improve both the pupils learning experience of R.E. and the ability of R.E. teachers to become more adept in their profession. The Framework it is maintained will give clear guidance to pupils and various educational advisory bodies alike on the remit of R.E. in the education of a child. The latter part of the paragraph also implies that the Framework will have the flexibility to give schools the freedom to meet individualised pupil needs and facilitates discretion for schools that want to put together schemes of work that reflect the social characteristics of their locality.
The opening declaration of the Non– Statutory National Framework for R.E. does widely define the boundaries and limitations of the publication. At face value one would expect that the national Framework will work as a rough guide for educational authorities rather than as a strict code of practice to be abided by under all circumstances. The agenda of the Framework is clear but how it will actually succeed in compelling educational providers to improve standards in R.E. is vague. Bearing these factors in mind the expectation is that at Key Stage three the Framework will provide a blueprint for teaching R.E., but whether this blueprint will cover the full scope of R.E. is an issue that needs to be closely scrutinised in this investigation.
A critical analysis of the Non- Statutory National Framework is given by (Watson and Thompson, 2004) in which they contend that the Framework puts the importance rather than the purpose of R.E. at the heart of their activity. Their criticism follows that the Framework has when mapping out the aims of R.E. the plan of revealing how R.E. ties in with the wider aims of the curriculum as a whole – as opposed to suggesting any aims for R.E. as a subject by itself. This is a problem as the aims of R.E. should be able to identify what is to be taught to pupils and why this teaching is essential in the curriculum rather than a slightly useful part of a child’s education. This identification of difficulties within the Framework does place doubt on the ability of this publication to be a resource in which R.E. professionals can use as a blueprint to teach R.E. in its entirety. Certainly if the Framework was to provide the full foundations for teaching R.E. at any level it would need to help the tutor of R.E in presenting their justification for the presence of the subject by itself in the curriculum.
Without an argument that defends a separate place for R.E in a child’s education then educational commentators may ask the question why R.E. is not either combined with other subjects such as Sociology, Citizenship, PHSE or indeed dropped from the curriculum altogether. As R.E. is under pressure from individuals and institutions with a secularist agenda, it is imperative that the R.E. fraternity has a resource from central government that acts as a defence against individuals and organisations, who are unsympathetic for the need for pupils to have an education in World religions. Such critics may want to follow the example of the United States, where R.E. has been abolished from public sector education. From this perspective, therefore, the Non –Statutory National Framework does not provide an adequate blueprint for teaching R.E.
An obvious weakness of the Framework is the fact that as its title describes it is a ‘non –statutory Framework’. Inevitably then the legal obligations for the provision of R.E. is unchanged by this Framework. This factor is a serious drawback. If the Framework does not have the remit to impose a legally binding code of practice on the organisations involved in the development of R.E; namely SACREs, ASCs, the board of governors within faith schools, current policies on funding and R.E. inspections then it is inevitable that the Framework will not reach it’s aim to raise standards in R.E. The Framework potentially will be neglected by R.E. professionals who don’t agree with its terms and the Framework will be an absolute failure. In order to reach its ambitious goal the Framework should have been an obligatory blueprint not a voluntary one. This factor seems to indicate that the architects of the Framework lacked the determination to enforce changes in R.E. provision. Surely a determined approach to a set of aims would entail producing a legal document to be followed by R.E. professionals rather than assuming the cooperation of R.E. providers.
Another problem that was associated with the introduction of the Framework was identified by Weston (2005) the Chair of the Professional Council for R.E, in the R.E. Today Magazine. Weston noted that the Framework will potentially fail to meet its aims because of the recruitment crisis in R.E. teaching. Indeed the Framework has no proposals on how to address the shortage of R.E. teachers and significantly the professional associations such as SACREs and ASCs will need guidance from R.E. teachers in the implementation of the Framework. On this issue Weston stated
‘Many of our SACREs and their Agreed Syllabus Conferences will need support and training if they are to make full use of the Framework when developing their new syllabuses. Once an Agreed Syllabus is introduced, training must be provided for teachers to ensure that the important dissemination from syllabus to scheme of work to teaching and learning will meet the needs of all pupils in our religiously diverse society.’ (Weston; 2005)
In this statement Weston highlights the fear that the absence of suitably qualified R.E. teachers, will result in a failure to properly educate SACREs and ASCs on the how to effectively produce the new syllabuses, which will be in line with or influenced by the new Framework. A related concern is once the SACRE and the ASCs have actually put together their new syllabuses there will not be enough teachers to be trained in the syllabuses resulting in the fault that schemes of work in schools and the outcomes of teaching and learning will not meet the varying educational needs in R.E. of all children in the education system. These likely problems prove that the Non- Statutory National Framework was designed without considering many basic issues. The Framework, therefore, with this evidence of a severe shortcoming in its planning of outcomes, will fail to provide adequate standards for R.E. professionals to follow when teaching at all Key Stages in the Curriculum.
Further academic criticism of the Framework document was given by Felderhof (2004) in the Journal of Beliefs and Values in which the author complained that the Framework was too obsessed with the study of ‘other people’s religious traditions’. The Framework does indeed place a lot of emphasis on the religious traditions of different communities, which is not a negative feature to most R.E. professionals. However if the Framework is perceived to be biased against Christianity then there is potential for the Framework to be resented and possibly neglected by R.E. professionals who have an agenda to place Christianity at the heart of R.E. provision.
In focussing on the impact that the Framework will have on developing a blueprint for teaching R.E. at KS3 specifically and arguing from the perspective of a Beginning Teacher it is clear that the Non- Statutory National Framework for R.E. at KS3 has many strengths. On analysing the statement within the Framework booklet on KS3 R.E. it does have the advantage of being very concise in expressing the expectations of R.E. at this level. The document has three subheadings. These are: Learning about religion, Learning from religion and Breadth of study. The three headings are each accompanied by between 5 to 18 points covering the things that pupils should be taught under each of the subheadings. This level of detail from personal experience does make the Framework at KS3 very comprehensive and easy to understand for the teacher of R.E. This factor is an actual strength of the Framework and it does illustrate how much thought and planning has been dedicated into the production of the Framework. From this perspective the Framework at KS3 does provide adequate guidance for teaching the full content of R.E. at KS3.
Furthermore to the Beginning Teacher a genuine strength of the Framework for teaching R.E. at KS3 is the fact that in the Framework handbook on pages 28-29 it does illustrate in the margin how some features of the learning objectives can be connected to another subject in the curriculum. The subjects noted for cross curriculum opportunities are ICT, Art and Design, Geography, History, Science, English and Citizenship. As mentioned earlier has been much debate on how R.E. is relevant to the wider curriculum and to the general education of a child. The Framework handbook does identify how R.E. is part of the wider network of subjects in the curriculum. In this way the Framework at KS3 is helpful to the teacher of R.E. in making links between R.E. and the rest of the curriculum. The fact that this was included in the Framework document does illustrate the fact that a lot of thought and planning has been put into these guidelines so that they would meet the needs of R.E. teachers.
The impact of the Non–Statutory National Framework has also provided a blueprint for teaching R.E. through its influence in R.E. textbooks. An example of this influence can be found in the Think R.E. series of textbooks published by Harcourt Education in 2005. On page 4 of the Think R.E.: pupil book 1 the guidance of the Framework on the editing of the text book is clear. Indeed, the textbook states that the Framework has informed the planning for this series of text books; that the four attitudes, which are noted as essential for good learning in R.E. on page 13 of the Framework document (these are 1. self awareness 2. respect for all 3. open-mindedness 4. appreciation and wonder) are all supported by the methods of learning in the text book. In addition the text book points out that the new Framework places much emphasis on allowing pupils to explore secular ideas such as Humanism and Atheism.
Furthermore on page 5 the text book maps out its commitment to the twelve principles of the KS3 Framework strategy from providing a focus on setting clear learning objectives to the use of ICT in R.E., with separate statements for each of the twelve principles, which details how the text book will meet these principles in providing lesson plans for teachers. It is of much credit to the Framework that this code of practice has been recognised by mainstream providers of educational resources. To the teacher of R.E. the success of the Framework in being adopted by external organisations associated with the teaching of R.E. is one of its strengths, as this will mean that even an R.E. professional who has not read the Framework document, will still feel its influence due to the presence of the Framework doctrines in various R.E. publications used in the classroom.
On this evidence it is feasible to say that the blueprint for teaching the full scope of R.E. at KS3 is adequate because it does encourage wider perspectives to be studied to the extent that Humanism and secularism are included in schemes of work. The Framework even assists the teacher of R.E. in planning lessons at KS3 in terms of considering the learning objectives, expectations, making concepts explicit, structured learning, promoting higher order questioning, thinking skills, assessment, target setting, differentiation, links with Citizenship education, inclusion and opportunities to use ICT resources. Therefore any teacher of R.E. at KS3 should be perceived as ill-informed if they had not considered referring to the Non- Statutory National Framework for guidance for the effective teaching of R.E. at KS3.
In conclusion and after evaluating all of the evidence that has focused on the strengths and the drawbacks of the Non –Statutory Framework for R.E. at KS3, it does appear that the drawbacks of the Framework have been potential shortcomings and the strengths of the Framework are in practice actual strengths. It is logical to imply that many of the criticisms of the Framework have been theoretical rather than ones, which are based on instances of the actual usage of the Framework in promoting effective R.E. teaching. For example in a paper given by Marilyn Mason who is an Educational Officer for the British Humanist Association (BHA), to an Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) seminar on Religious Education and the New National Framework, on 20th January 2004 several doubts were cast on the workability of the new Framework. The document stated
‘My fear is that the National Framework could simply become the 152nd syllabus, yet another one to be adapted or plundered or, worse, ignored. And I doubt that a National Framework, however good, could justify RE’s peculiar and anomalous place in the school curriculum: Why should it be compulsory right up to the end of school, though not in colleges? Is there enough interesting and relevant content to justify this? Is it really so much more important than literacy, numeracy, or critical thinking? It would be good to see a really dynamic and exciting RE competing on equal terms with the other humanities subjects for students after KS3, though that is beyond the scope of a mere Framework’. Mason M (2004) ‘Religious Education – could do better’?
This quotation offers a critical analysis of the Framework, which is not based on how the Framework has worked when it has been implemented. It only discusses a potential drawback. It was assumed that the Framework would be changed or not adopted at all by R.E. professionals from experience and by observing the impact of the Framework on R.E. resources we can safely say that this has not been the case. The statement by the BHA does continue to attack R.E. as a subject in itself and even insinuates that it is given ‘much more importance than literacy, numeracy and critical thinking’. This unfounded outburst of contempt for R.E. in the school curriculum only reinforces the perception of the BHA as an institution, which is on an anti –R.E. crusade. The criticism of the Framework in the passage should therefore be taken with caution as the BHA does not seem interested in how the provision of R.E. in schools can be improved -but rather how the profile of R.E. as a subject can be lowered in the curriculum.
On the other hand an example of how the Framework has expressed an actual strength is displayed in the 2007 locally agreed Syllabus for R.E in Havering. Not only does this document state in the introduction on Page 5 that the new syllabus was produced with attention being paid to the terms of the Non- Statutory Framework, but in the KS3 section on Pages 27-29 the bread of study at KS3 should entail learning knowledge understanding and skills during the study of a whole World view, which includes lesser known religions and secular ideas, which will take account of the schools religious/ non-religious profile. This framework ties in with the breadth of study declared on page 29 (3 c,d,) of the Non- Statutory National Framework document in which it is stated that during KS3 pupils should be taught the knowledge, skills and understanding of R.E. by looking at a religious community with a significant presence in the locality and concentrating on the secular view of the World where possible. This correlation in the agenda of a locally agreed syllabus and the Framework is irrefutable evidence of the impact that this set of objectives for the improvement of R.E. had on R.E. professionals. The ability of the Framework to be adopted by SACRE’s and ASC’s –all in spite of the guidelines not being compulsory is a real strength of the Framework. Given these actual strengths of the Non-Statutory National Framework in suggesting the scope of study at KS3, it is feasible to say in spite of its critics who may have been dubious about the feasibility of Framework before its introduction that the Framework is an adequate resource for teaching R.E.
Agreed syllabus for Havering (2007) Pathways London Borough of Havering Agreed Syllabus for Religious Education.
Draycott P (et al ed) (2005) Think R.E. London: Harcourt Education.
Felderhof M.C. (2004) Journal of Beliefs and Values, Volume 25, Number 2, August 2004 , pp. 241-248(8) London: Routledge
Mason, Marilyn, 2004. Religious Education –could do better? Available at: (accessed 6th December 2007).
QCA, ed, 2004. The Non- Statutory Framework for R.E., London: QCA Available at: (accessed 5th December 2007).
Watson B and Thompson P (2007) The effective teaching of Religious Education London: Longman
Weston, Deborah, 2004. News from R.E. Today Magazine: PCfRE comment on the launch of the Non-Statutory Framework for RE. Available at: (accessed 7th December 2007).
White J. (2004) Rethinking the school curriculum values, aims and purposes Great Britain: Routledge.
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