How Discovery RE can help church schools
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 plus there is also a self-evaluation model document (download) from the Church of England’s media site which your school may like to adopt.
Your diocesan team can support you when preparing for inspection and may also provide an evaluation form. Please check your Diocesan SIAMS page for further support and help.
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.
This is evaluated through four core questions:
- How well does the school, through its distinctive Christian character, meet the needs of all learners?
- What is the impact of collective worship on the school community?
- How effective is the Religious Education? (in VA schools and academies)
- How effective are the leadership and management of the school as a church school?
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.” And your own local context or traditions will have positive impact on many areas of this.
Church schools are also expected to have assessed their curriculum in light of the ‘statement of entitlement for RE in CE schools (PDF).’ 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 the other major religions, their impact on culture and
politics, art and history, and on the lives of their adherents
- To develop understanding of religious faith 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 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 considered by your school.
(NB: the ‘Statement of Entitlement’ does not apply to Methodist schools).
How much should RE be about Christianity?
In VA schools, in Key Stages 1-3, the guideline is that Christianity will form the majority study in all church schools and that in KS 1-3 at least two-thirds of the study should be on Christianity.
Discovery RE contains 24 enquiries on Christianity as part of the original program design from a total of 42 which is approximately 57%. This has now been supplemented within the new 3rd edition with three new units on Christianity which can be substituted for non-Christian units within years 4, 5 and 6. The units cover the following topics:
- The Gospels
- The new Covenant (to follow on from the Judaism enquiry on Covenant lower in the school)
- The Trinity
These units allow Discovery RE to fully satisfy the need for additionality and are based firmly on scriptural and church references.
It is also possible to supplement the Discovery RE scheme of work with additional units or materials on Christianity from the Understanding Christianity resource.
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, whereas 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 suggests 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 comprehensive and progressive 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 RE 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.
Assessment and feedback
Feedback from teachers tells us they love Discovery RE because assessment is built in, assessment activity sheets are ready-made (but not boring!) and not always dependent on mature literacy skills, and the grid on the reverse of each planning page makes the expectations crystal clear. The attainment descriptors/expectations are further exemplified in child-speak and the tracking sheets help to see each child’s progress across the year.
Within Discovery RE there are 3 expectations/attainment descriptors (working towards, working at and working beyond) for every enquiry. Each descriptor has 3 aspects of learning, green, blue and red, to focus on personal resonance and reflection (green), knowledge and understanding (blue), and critical thinking skills (red). The colour-coding follows through from the 4-step planning model to the assessment activity sheets, to the expectations and descriptors and also to the exemplification.
The previous 8-level scale is still referenced for any schools who are working with an Agreed Syllabus that still requires this system, but the new Discovery RE descriptors can support schools in demonstrating that children are achieving in an age-related way to be more easily comparable with other subjects. Summary expectations are also given for the end of KS1, mid KS2 and end of KS2. The addition of the green (personal resonance) descriptors offer opportunities for children’s personal and spiritual growth to be recognised. This allows your school to further evidence the expectation from the Statement of Entitlement which states that RE should “contribute to the development of pupils’ own spiritual / philosophical convictions exploring and enriching their own faith and beliefs.”
Advantage of the enquiry 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.
SIAMS inspections are demonstrating that children tell inspectors that they really enjoy Discovery RE. Some examples of quotes from inspection reports can be found here at http://discoveryschemeofwork.com/news/success-stories/.
The enquiry model is recommended by Ofsted as the best approach for improving critical thinking and evaluative skills.
SIAMS Inspector lesson observations
In line with all Inspectors, SIAMS inspectors may well wish to observe RE lessons. They 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 planning 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. It is important to ensure that your teaching staff recognise that Discovery RE is a medium term scheme of work so must consider the needs of their own class and any differentiation and support necessary.
Discovery RE places emphasis on using subject knowledge of a particular religion in order to answer a big question, as opposed to the question being an end in itself. This is much more challenging but even more rewarding for both children and teachers.
Discovery RE is also intent on supporting children’s spiritual development so is also focussed on moving children from their own world, into the world of religion and back again, looking at what they have learned that makes a difference to them.
Both of these aspects are evidenced within the Discovery RE assessment process.
RE subject leadership
The outcomes of individual lessons on the day give the inspector a snapshot of the teaching in the school, but your role as subject leader will come under far more scrutiny.
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. When the SIAMS phone call comes, it should be a relatively easy job to select a wide range of books, knowing they will show consistency. You can demonstrate to the inspector that planned activities have been carried out and marked consistently, utilising your assessment evidence compiled using the Discovery RE grids for easy reference.
If you are new to the role of RE subject leadership, or would like further support with this, we can support you with our Discovery RE Subject Leader’s Manual which is available here from our online shop. We can also come into school and support you as subject leader or run training for you on best practice RE teaching using Discovery RE and the Enquiry approach to teaching. Contact us for more details.
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.
Senior Associate Consultant