Seeking ‘outstanding’ from your next SIAMS? How Discovery RE can help!
When leading RE in any school, there can be pressure regarding teaching time, the profile of the subject in amongst a hectic and pressured timetable, and finding time and evidence for assessment. For those of us leading in an Anglican or Methodist setting this pressure can be increased due to our Statutory Inspections of Anglican and Methodist Schools (SIAMS).
Details of SIAMS inspections can be found on the National Society’s webpage (http://www.churchofengland.org/education/national-society/siams-school-inspections.aspx) and there is also a self-evaluation model document available on this page which, in the current absence of a prescribed Self Evaluation Form, your school may adopt for both SIAMS and Ofsted.
Your diocesan team can support you when preparing for inspection and may also provide an evaluation form (e.g. Salisbury Diocese have a bank of resources at www.salisbury.anglican.org/school/sias, Winchester and Portsmouth have something similar at portsmouth.anglican.org/what_we_do/education/school_inspection_sias.)
The Diocese of Oxford has a dedicated SIAMS page at www.oxford.anglican.org/schools/siams
(Please check your diocesan education page).
It must be remembered that the principal objective of a SIAMS inspection is to evaluate the distinctiveness and effectiveness of the school as a church school, but your own local context or traditions will have an impact on many areas of this. As RE leader, the question of “how effective is the Religious Education?” is the area that will concern you most. Using Discovery RE can help evidence many of the criteria that SIAMS inspectors use when grading the RE element of the inspection, but can also support other areas such as “how well does the school….meet the needs of its learners.”
Church schools are also expected to have assessed their curriculum in light of the ‘statement of entitlement for RE in CE schools’ (available as a PDF at www.salisbury.anglican.org and on other diocesan websites). This specifies the following aims which should be part of your RE policy:
-to enable pupils to encounter Christianity as the religion that shaped British culture and heritage and influences the lives of millions of people today.
-to enable pupils to learn about other major religions, their impact on culture and politics, art and history, and on the lives of their adherents.
-to develop understanding of religious faiths as the search for and expression of truth.
-to contribute to the development of pupils’ own spiritual/philosophical convictions, exploring and enriching their own faith and beliefs.
Although these can be evidenced through the Discovery RE enquiries into Christianity, it would be helpful to remind teachers that these aims form part of your RE policy and may need to be specifically evidenced through individual lesson plans showing high quality questioning and and thinking skills. It would be especially helpful to explicitly make those links between the other religions and Christianity in order to reflect on the areas of shared belief and practice between different faiths.
Section 7 of the ‘Statement of Entitlement’ states that Christianity should be the majority study in RE in every school, which Discovery RE clearly fulfils.
Section 9 (curriculum balance) and Section 3 of the RE section of the SIAMS schedule, on the Quality of the Curriculum, has more particular expectations which will need to be carefully calculated in your school.
(NB: the ‘Statement of Entitlement’ does not apply to Methodist schools).
How much RE should be about Christianity?
In VA schools, in Key Stages 1-3, the guideline is that Christianity should be allocated approximately two thirds of the RE curriculum time. In VC schools, the locally agreed syllabus requirements should be followed.
Discovery RE has 24 enquiries on Christianity (including the new EYFS units) from a total of 42 which is approximately 57%.
If you are leading the subject in an infant school, there are 12 enquiries on Christianity of the total 18 which is exactly two thirds.
For a full primary or a junior school, however, this will require some scrutiny and may require some additionality of Christianity. Actual time spent teaching Christianity explicitly could be calculated but the essence of additionality is more about there being a greater focus on e.g.key Christian Festivals such as Christmas, Harvest and Easter (See the Salisbury Diocese website for ‘Festival Matters’, a good resource to support this).
Additionality might also take the form of RE-led topics in a creative curriculum e.g.art and religion.
In my school we moved certain Discovery RE enquiries around to better fit with our topic-based teaching approach and this has extended many Christianity units well beyond the 6 week expectation. It is also possible, and may be necessary, to supplement Discovery RE with additional units or materials on Christianity from your Diocese.
I would advise speaking to your diocese education office to make sure you are aware of all the materials and support available to add this additionality if needed.
Although the RE subject element of SIAMS is similar to an Ofsted inspection, the greatest difference between SIAMS and OfSTED is that OfSTED come as a team and SIAMS is usually a single inspector. This means it is really important to ensure consistency, as that one person will be scrutinising every part of the RE in school. They don’t have as long to dig into details so first impressions really count, and having everything ready in an easily understandable format will both make the inspector’s job easier and also help you identify where there are gaps and how to close them.
Completing your self- evaluation form with ‘outstanding’ in mind will help the inspector gauge your levels of evidence of impact. The school-wide consistency of enquiry-based teaching and levelled summative assessment provided by Discovery RE is a secure base.
Inspectors will be looking at the achievement of learners in RE, quality of teaching and learning, the curriculum, and especially the teaching of Christianity and the effectiveness of RE leadership. Discovery RE really helps with this in several ways.
Within each Discovery RE enquiry (unit), it clearly states what should be recorded by the children. The ability to use both creativity and more traditional evidence in the way that Discovery RE suggests, ensures that there is a readily visible paper trail, both for you as subject leader to regularly scrutinise, and for the inspector to quickly access. More importantly, in schools with more than one-form entry, it ensures consistency across the year group. No matter who is teaching, the same evidence should be in the books. This helps with visible progression, especially with enquiries (units) which were previously quite difficult to differentiate such as Christmas and Easter because they are visited in every year group.
Discovery RE provides progressive, comprehensive units which inspectors love!
To gain ‘outstanding’ you will need to demonstrate high attainment and “rapid” progress, and the consistent, regular recording prompted by Discovery can ensure this is apparent.
Discovery RE now includes Discovery RE Journal covers for teachers to download and use to make RE books more exciting, special and valued. We see these journals as valuable sources of evidence of children’s learning journeys and achievement in Religious Education.
Under our previous scheme of work (and the expectations of our previous locally agreed syllabus), we formally assessed the learning at Easter and at one other point across the year. Although it initially sounded like more work to assess every enquiry, my RE teachers love Discovery RE because assessment is built in, assessment task sheets are ready-made(but not boring!), and the grid on the reverse of each planning page makes the levelling crystal clear. The levels are further exemplified in child-speak and the tracking sheets help to see each child’s progress across the year.
My colleagues feel they now have a far better grip on what each level looks like in practice and also a clearer idea of individual children’s strengths and gaps. Assessment has automatically become both more rigorous and more meaningful. We have found it most straightforward to highlight these in the children’s books as this easily demonstrates to the inspector that assessment is regularly happening and can be tracked throughout the school.
There is also an expectation for ‘outstanding’ that levels in RE will be equal or better to those in other subjects and this is easy to evidence with such regular assessment.
Enquiry- based approach
Inspectors look for the extent to which learners enjoy their RE and are enabled to speak about religious ideas and faith. A real strength of Discovery RE is its ability to get the children thinking and verbalising. Like OfSTED, SIAMS inspectors will chat to children to find out what they feel about their learning.
We do a stakeholders’ survey every other year, and it was clear from both parents and children that changing to Discovery RE had ignited more discussion at home about the questions in the enquiries. This was also evident to the inspectors when they questioned the children about what they had learnt.
The enquiry model is also recommended by Ofsted as the best approach for improving critical thinking and evaluative skills.
In line with all Inspectors, SIAMS inspectors are looking for outstanding teaching in the lessons they observe. They will want to see both AT1 and 2 in evidence but more importantly will be looking for challenge and the acquisition of knowledge and skills in the lesson. Children actively learning is a real necessity…exploring their ideas themselves. The lessons in the Discovery RE scheme of work fulfil this brief but also give enough scope for teachers to put their own mark on the lesson.
Discovery RE emphasises using the AT1 knowledge in order to answer a big question, as opposed to as an end in itself. This is more challenging but much more rewarding for children and teachers.
Discovery RE is also intent on supporting children’s spiritual development so AT2 is focussed on , children moving from their world, into the world of religion and back again to their own world, looking at what they have learnt that makes a difference to them.
Remembering it is all about the impact, you will need a subject leader’s file that demonstrates previous observations, work and planning scrutiny, and assessment monitoring. With Discovery RE and the consistency that it brings, monitoring is far more straightforward and lessons in the planning should be easily identifiable in books. Last academic year, I was not due to monitor books until the summer term having monitored assessment earlier in the year. When the SIAMS phone call came, it was an easy job to select a wide range of books, knowing they would show consistency because I had received summative assessment data.
I could confidently tell the inspector that planned activities had been carried out and marked consistently as the assessment evidence compiled using the Discovery RE grids could not have been achieved without them.
It will also fall to you to complete the self- evaluation form to be sent to the inspector before their visit. This is where the more creative elements of Discovery RE can be utilised as it is perfectly acceptable to include photos and tables in this document. Do not underestimate how important it is to make it clear that you are looking for ‘outstanding’ at this point. The inspector will then come back to you with what they want to see on the day to securely evidence this. By using Discovery RE, you should easily be able to prove what you believe to be true – in writing, lesson plans, curriculum overview and observations -that RE truly deserves the grade of ‘outstanding’ in your school.
St Mark’s CE Primary School, Bournemouth
Discovery RE is the culmination of over 30 years’ experience in RE teaching and advisory work. It reinforces Religious Education’s statutory place in the primary curriculum.
We believe RE is about subject knowledge, critical/evaluative thinking and personal spiritual development.
Discovery RE gives teachers a solid structure for delivering a wide range of subject content covering 6 of the world’s principal religions. It guides teachers through the enquiry process, starting in the children’s experience, venturing into the world of religion and back into the child’s map of the world.
The world our children live in is full of beauty but also full of confusion. Discovery RE can equip and empower children to make sense of it.