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Critical analysis and evaluation of an educational research paper A Critical Review of ‘Subject co-ordinatorship in the primary school: Religious Education, a case study’

By Amberc95 Jan 03, 2014 2713 Words
Assignment 2: Critical analysis and evaluation of an educational research paper A Critical Review of ‘Subject co-ordinatorship in the primary school: Religious Education, a case study’. The article I have chosen to review looks at the work undertaken by Religious Education (RE) coordinators in primary schools. It was written by Derek Bastide and was published in the International Journal of Primary, Elementary and Early Years Education in 2003. When I first came across this article it reminded me of my own childhood experiences in primary education and how RE played a key role. This article stood out as I wanted to understand the role of RE coordinators in primary schools and how these roles are assigned. This is something I would like to look into further for my professional career. The educational claim is that RE coordinators have responded to challenges effectively even with the shortage of resources such as time and money which have frequently been targeted on core subjects instead (Bastide 2003). The aim of the study is clearly stated throughout the article. It gives insight into how RE can be over looked in a primary school, teachers views on RE and how it is being taught within schools. It attempts to tackle the aspects of an RE coordinators role. It provides information on developing the subject and increasing teaching standards. It also includes a case study which supports the view that RE is not seen as important as other subjects and the reasons for this. This research was initiated in 1998 through postal questionnaires and interviews. In total, there were 450 schools involved. 400 schools received postal questionnaires, this sample was chosen by selecting fifty schools at random from 8 ‘Local Education Authorities’ (LEA) representing the north/south, rural/urban, multicultural/virtually monoculture and prosperous/economically depressed. (Schools such as voluntary aided schools were excluded as they do not follow the local agreed syllabus for RE). 219 (54.75 per cent) of the questionnaires were returned. 50 other schools were interviewed. The schools selected for interviews had been judged as ‘good’ at RE. (An LEA advisor with knowledge of both RE and the school would be able to judge it as ‘good’ or not.) The aim was to find what classed the schools ‘good’ at RE. Some of the 50 teachers interviewed were RE coordinators and the others did not specialise. They were interviewed separately, the interviews were selected from schools judged as ‘good’ therefore meaning that the research could conclude with valid results as it could gain glimpses of good practice (Bastide 2003). In one sample shown by the author there are fewer teachers than there are curriculum subjects to teach which lead to some teachers having to take on more than one subject, including head teachers, to cover the role of an RE coordinator. This therefore did not have a jigsaw fit within the school and subject coordinators. Michael Gove, the education secretary, commented in a recent Ofsted report saying RE was being “squeezed out” by other subjects. This supports my chosen article. The reasons for this could be due to a lack of time and money. Some schools do not have a clear understanding for the reasons of studying RE and therefore their teaching is poor as they are unclear. (Irena 2013). An important factor within schools is teachers who have specialist qualifications. Each school interviewed was keen to have a qualified coordinator for each subject with separate key stage coordinators for core subjects, which is appealing but rare as 40 per cent of primary schools only have six teachers or less. (Bastide 2003). Schools that did not have teachers with expertise used strategies such as providing connections between other subjects. 15 per cent of schools would ally RE with History and Geography to form the area of humanities. (Bastide 2003). However this did not always work in practice. Some schools put teachers with religious commitment as coordinators. This is not always practical as personal qualities can only support one faith therefore they would need to be open minded and prepared to increase their knowledge. I consider this piece of research ethical as the questionnaires were sent out randomly and they represented different English LEA meaning no schools were targeted because they had ‘good’ reports or not therefore the interview was not oppressing. However, as they have been told what the article is for they may not know what answer is required from them resulting in right answerism. The researcher may be not have been biased when asking the questions however, knowing what the research title was for they may have interpreted the data with personal feelings. By the interviews being taped, the people being questioned may have given the answer they thought was needed not their true opinion, this is known as the Hawthorne effect reducing the reliability. The validity of this research could be questioned as the claim may be true but there is more than one logical conclusion for the claim. The way results were collected could be criticised as there are a number of different reasons as to why RE is hard to be taught and not just one therefore it might be from a lack of guidance altogether not the teaching. The difference in these results may be due to the different time allowance schools actually give themselves to teach RE. The research does however show that RE coordinators seem to enjoy their role and the number of coordinators that do enjoy their role outweigh those who do not. This is due to them mainly having an interest in the subject meaning that they have previous knowledge or understanding. However there are faults with this as most knowledge is largely Christian and RE includes the teaching of all different types of religions. The coordinators that enjoy the role however are ones who have an interest in the subject and this contradicts Bastide’s research as it mainly talks about the coordinators that were assigned the role due to not having enough staff who wanted to be a coordinator of RE. There was expressed dissatisfaction with the role of being an RE coordinator because of the difficulties and frustrations. However most say that it is now in the past and they enjoy teaching RE as they began to gain enthusiasm and fascination in the subject with opportunities available. One coordinator interviewed said that ‘I shall never forget my first visit to a Hindu temple. The images were so beautiful.’ (Bastide 2003). Some primary schools may think that they do not have enough time for RE as they feel it is less important than other subjects.RE is a non statutory subject so when schools do have time for RE they try to avoid it as it is not a subject that is seen to be enjoyed and children do not understand the purpose of the subject. RE can be like any other subject, children can find the subject as interesting as the teachers want it to be. If the activities are planned well, like all other subjects, the lesson can be really engaging, creative and responsive. Children are able to learn and think quickly with RE as multiple view points are needed and children need to be able to accept different views (Engebretson 2004). An RE coordinator not only has to work alone but also with other members of staff who have to teach RE to their classes. This is where coordinators found five main issues which had to be addressed, which could also be relevant to other humanity subjects. Firstly, some coordinators found that other colleagues would misunderstand what the aim and purpose of RE was. This could be that the Education Reform Act requires pupils to learn a range of religions. Establishing an understanding of RE was an initial battle that most RE coordinators had to fight and win before the rest of their work could continue. (Bastide 2003). There is evidence, largely from OfSTED reports (OfSTED 2005, 2007), that many teachers are not comfortable with teaching RE as they have a lack of knowledge as to the depth of teaching the subject. Some teachers only see RE as helping pupils to notice religion in their lives and not reflect on other religions (Teece 2009). My personal thought is that the lack of understanding in the subject leads onto the second issue that many teachers became aware of; their limited knowledge and understanding of religions. This lead to a lack of confidence in teaching and furthermore made RE less enjoyable to teach and this would reflect on the children resulting in them not enjoying the subject either. Subsequently the lack of confidence led to anxiety about teaching incorrect information and therefore a fear, especially in multi faith areas, of causing offence. (Bastide 2003). It could also be hard to teach RE in primary school as it is difficult to integrate into young children’s experiences. It is harder for children to understand and accept (Teece 2009). Further research could be carried out to see that if RE is incorporated children may be able to understand different faiths and respect them. The fourth issue that may be unique to RE, is the uneasiness of teaching RE due to teachers own religious experiences. Some teachers were unwilling to teach other religions due to their own beliefs and faith. (Bastide 2003). These two attitudes proved difficult to deal with as there was no easy response because it was not foreseen as an issue. My impression was that the teachers interviewed each had influences but no reasoning for the influence. No teacher could say why they did not see RE as less important therefore they just missed it out. One thing a teacher did say was that they thought RE would fit well with History and Geography but it does not and this could be a lead for further research to look into how humanity subjects are now important but there is no time to fit them in. The final issue, raised by colleagues, was the pressured curriculum. Teachers found it difficult to fit RE into the competing, changing and sometimes conflicting demands of the curriculum into the normal week. Therefore when teachers were looking for something to ignore, RE could easily be one of the suitors. (Bastide 2003). I do not see that not having sufficient time and resources to be a significant reason that could lead to a reliable conclusion as it depends on the factors that affect a teacher and what they see as more important subjects when teaching the needs of their class. RE coordinators felt these issues needed to be dealt with before they could plan RE lessons within the school. Many felt they had to do more than coordinate - they needed to lead as well. ‘Strictly they are RE leaders!’ (Bastide 2003). The problems faced are inter-linked with the lack of time and money. There is no allowance of time for staff meetings for their coordinating role, most meetings were said to be held at break times which then became ‘discouraging’ (one RE coordinator said). A lack of money also means that it is hard to fund resource materials to support the teaching of RE. One head teacher did not feel able to allocate more than £50 per annum to RE (Bastide 2003). The overall satisfaction, despite a lack of time and money, could be divided into four areas. Personal satisfaction; teachers new knowledge on RE. RE for some teachers is just like any other subject, it is set with rules of pedagogy and they made children try and give their own views, challenging them academically and personally. Satisfaction is then gained when children work well and learn. (Engebretson 2004). Satisfaction with the response of colleagues; this included seeing colleagues opening up to different viewpoints, helping colleagues overcome uncertainties and seeing teachers teach the ‘scheme of work’. Satisfaction with the development of the subject in school; ‘getting things going’, ‘raising the profile of RE’ (Bastide 2003). These were comments mentioned by coordinators and this achievement gave coordinators professional satisfaction. The satisfaction with the response of the children; this was when children enjoyed RE because the subject was well planned and taught. To be a successful RE teacher you need to have an understanding in what is being taught along with a strong belief in the purpose of what you are teaching with your own motivation for teaching RE. Further research also supports this idea as even if you do not believe in a faith as a teacher you need to show you do have a good understanding of it so children are able to see this too (Engebretson 2004). Even with a lack of support, in terms of available time and resources, shown as a problem in too many schools, RE coordinators themselves have still been able to gain interest with colleagues and pupils due to a broadened content of the subject and preparing themselves well for the role of a RE coordinator. This article is focusing on the role of a coordinator but there is no regard to pupils until the end of the article, pupils’ play a role in the coordinating as it is what they will find interesting to learn about, to hear their views may make coordinating easier. The results gathered from Bastide’s research suggests that coordinators find RE more interesting as the curriculum content has been broadened but there is still a lack of support and interest among colleagues due to poor levels of time and resources, this is a view from many schools. The results from both methods used are hard to draw a particular conclusion from or an overall reason why RE can be hard to teach furthermore resulting in it being dropped from schools because I feel that the research shows that there is a confused sense of purpose of what RE is about and this could be because of training gaps and how RE should be examined in schools as it mentions there is a lack of time therefore possibly a lack of preparation by teachers to teach RE and a lack of time can also mean they do not get a great understanding of the subject themselves. I believe that RE is seen as less important to many teachers within schools especially if the school is non religious and they hold no specific religious backgrounds themselves. I was able to draw the conclusion that with a strong RE coordinator the subject can be fun and well taught with good guidance and teaching materials. The article I chose to analyse was unique therefore I found it difficult to find conflicting research. One way I could improve my critical analysis would have been to look at different aspects of teaching RE in more detail to see why it is not seen as important. I feel that, as a trainee teacher, researching into this topic has given me an insight into how a subject coordinator has an influencing role within a school and the coordinator would need to be committed to the subject they are coordinating to pass their knowledge and ideas to the other teaching staff so that all teachers hold an interest and some understanding of RE and from this they would enjoy delivering the subject to their students and feel confident with the subject. I also believe that all subjects are equally important as children need to learn as much as possible at a young age when they can absorb so much more knowledge. Word Count: 2,400

References:
Barker, I. 2013. Religious education: Would a new curriculum help solve years of confusion?.[online]Availableat:http://news.tes.co.uk/news_blog/b/weblog/archive/2013/10/23/new-religious-education-curriculum-will-help-clear-up-confusion.aspx [Accessed: 12 Nov 2013]. Bastide, D 2003. A Critical Review of ‘Subject co-ordinatorship in the primary school: Religious Education, a case study’. International Journal of Primary, Elementary and Early Years Education 31 (2), pp. 44-49. Engebretson, K 2004. Conversations about religious education, Journal of Beliefs & Values: Studies in Religion & Education. British Journal of Religious Education 25 (3), pp. 261-281. Prentice, C. 2012. Primary school religious education needs improvement - and fast. [online]Availableat:http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2012/apr/11/primary-school-religious-edudcation [Accessed: 19 Nov 2013]. Sherriff, L. 2013. Christianity 'Squeezed Out' Of Schools, Warns Ofsted. [online] Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/10/07/christianity-squeezed-out-schools-warns-ofsted_n_4055977.html [Accessed: 10 Nov 2013]. Teece, G. 2010. Is it learning about and from religions, religion or religious education? And is it any wonder some teachers don’t get it?. British Journal of Religious Education, 32 (2), pp. 93--103.

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