Helping you deliver RE

Written by: HTU | Published:

Many primary teachers feel apprehensive when teaching RE. Sarah Smalley looks at a range of useful resources and websites

Our communities are home to a fascinating array of religions and worldviews, rich in history, art, literature, music and philosophy.

They offer teachers the potential to enrich lessons with creative projects, lively discussion, respectful enquiry and quiet reflection, to encourage children to identify what matters to them and find their own moral compass, and to help integrate schools with local communities.

The sheer diversity of beliefs can also present challenges, of course, and these can seem daunting, particularly to inexperienced teachers – but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Media coverage of religious issues can make it seem as if any attempt to teach children about faith and belief is a minefield. While it is necessary to be sensitive and well-prepared, no teacher can know everything about every religious or secular worldview. It is more important to promote an open atmosphere, mutual respect and self-awareness, for instance by:

n Helping pupils understand that diversity of opinion and the existence of unanswerable questions are aspects of life that we all have to accept, and that they do not disappear as we grow older and wiser.
n Encouraging a “let’s explore this together” approach in which the teacher is a participant, not an expert – use the situation to open up rather than close down conversation or thinking.
n Aiming to keep pupils pondering, rather than giving answers that seem clear-cut. Draw out pupils’ responses by asking for further clarification with phrases such as “What do you think?”, “Can you clarify…?”, “What would happen if…?”.
n Encouraging the use of “owning and grounding” language, such as “in my opinion” or “some Hindus would say”. This allows belief statements to be made in the classroom without everyone feeling they have to agree.

These points are taken from the QCA’s Religious Education Units of Work. The practice code for RE teachers published by the RE Council offers further guidance (see further information for all links).


One concern is a lack of training, but there is a lot of support available and many excellent resources online.

RE:ONLINE is a comprehensive RE website which centres around a simple, effective search facility. As well as practical ideas and resources, it features advice for subject leaders, a toolkit for reviewing pupils’ progress, an online café for taking part in conversations about RE, and a collection of useful television and radio programmes.

BBC class clips offer short video clips (many under a minute) arranged by subject. The RE section includes categories ranging from Beliefs in Action to Places of Worship. Each clip comes with a written description and ideas for classroom use.

The Shap Calendar of Religious Festivals is available in print and electronically; the e-calendar comes with a booklet giving a brief description of each religious festival in 12 of the world’s faiths. The glossary provides definitions of hundreds of words associated with world religions, with sound files to aid pronunciation.

In addition, many faith and belief groups also have their own resources, such as the British Humanist Association’s free teaching toolkits and the Board of Deputies of British Jews’ teacher training for non-specialists teaching the subject at primary level.

Out of the classroom

We must also bring RE to life by taking it out of the classroom. Religions and worldviews are living entities. Churches and mosques aren’t just buildings; humanism isn’t just a theory. It makes sense to take RE into the community.

The Council for Learning Outside the Classroom provides ideas and resources. The Sacred Spaces section of its website gives guidance on visiting places of worship and sites of historical interest, as well as a list of organisations willing to facilitate visits.

RE Trails, meanwhile, enables children to explore a local neighbourhood, looking for evidence of the impact religion has had there. A trail could focus on a single religion or touch on several. The website provides maps of existing trails and a toolkit for creating your own.

Many schools take on eTwinning and this can have an RE focus. The British Council website provides information on setting up a project. Previous schemes include a primary school in Northern Ireland which “twinned up” with schools in Poland and Romania to look at the differences and similarities between Christmas festivities.

Other ideas

It can be helpful to work with colleagues in other curriculum areas to explore how people express religious or spiritual beliefs through art, music, dance, poetry or drama and give pupils opportunities to do the same. Search the RE Online portal above for examples or use stimulus material in a local place of worship, art gallery or museum.

One of the main sources of support is the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE). Its website provides its own resources, some free, together with useful links, information on local NATRE-linked network groups, and videos illustrating good practice. It also runs competitions such as Spirited Arts, which gives children the opportunity to turn their reflections into a piece of visual art. NATRE is also currently conducting a confidential survey of primary school teachers to get a picture of how RE is being taught. See below for the link.

Other useful initiatives include the RE Handbook, an online resource for teachers wishing to develop their knowledge of the subject, and the RE Quality Mark, an accreditation system which recognises high-quality RE, with bronze, silver and gold awards.

• Sarah Smalley has 30 years’ experience as an RE teacher and advisor. She is the executive officer of the RE Council of England and Wales, which brings together 64 organisations to strengthen the quality of RE provision.

Further information
• Religious Education Units of Work, QCA:
• The RE Council’s practice code for teachers:
• BBC Class Clips:
• The Shap Calendar:
• Sacred Spaces:
• RE Trails:
• eTwinning:
• Spirited Arts:
• NATRE survey:
• RE Handbook:
• RE Quality Mark:

• For more primary education best practice and advisory articles from Headteacher Update, click here.

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