The Jubilee Centre has published Religious Education Teachers and Character: Personal Beliefs and Professional Approaches. The aim of the research was to explore Religious Education (RE) teacher’s worldviews and their approaches to promoting pupils’ character growth in Religious Education.
Since the implementation of the 1870 Education Act, Religious Education (RE) has been a significant part of the state-funded school curriculum in the UK. Major subsequent landmarks include the 1944 Education Act and the 1988 Education Reform Act, the latter significantly requiring RE to include the teaching of Christianity, as well as the principal world religious traditions represented in Britain; yet it is widely acknowledged that RE is currently in a state of crisis.
Despite its compulsory status in law, many secondary schools omit it from the curriculum. As religious affiliation is declining in society, questions have been asked as to the relevance of the subject for today’s world, leading to ongoing debates among educators and stakeholders about its aims and purpose.
This report provides a timely contribution to the current debate by presenting the findings of a mixed-methods study of RE teachers’ worldviews and their approaches to promoting pupils’ character growth in RE. Underlying the conceptualisations and research orientation of this study are recent UK Government emphases on pupils’ character development, as defined by Ofsted. While the curriculum as a whole should develop pupils’ character, the focus of the new agenda on the cultivation of virtue, wise reflection and good conduct has particular relevance for RE. This report provides insights into the neglected role of RE teachers’ own characters and shows how this may in turn influence the character development of pupils.
Drawing on the previous work of the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, this study comprised interviews with RE teachers (n=30) and a survey of RE teachers (n=314). Participants included those working in schools – academies, community schools and independent schools – with a specific designated religious foundation (‘faith schools’) and in schools of different kinds which had no religious foundation (‘non-faith schools’). The qualitative and quantitative evidence generated by these methods confirmed the importance of personal experiences and beliefs in the consolidation of RE teachers’ professional commitment and purpose in all kinds of schools. Sometimes profound, and located in a variety of worldviews and life stances, RE teachers’ life experiences and worldviews informed and motivated them to seek to inspire pupils and cultivate pupils’ characters.
RE teachers were found to be dedicated to their subject and to aiding pupils’ personal development. They expressed strong support for the contribution RE can make to pupils’ character formation, as well as the positive impact that teaching the subject can have on tolerance and social harmony. These
motivating factors were found to be integral to RE teachers’ self-understandings. Their inspiration derived from their own beliefs and orientations, which were diverse and varied, but were unavoidably related to their personal experiences outside the classroom. Together, the quantitative and qualitative data support four main conclusions:
1) Personal worldviews informed RE teachers’ approaches in the classroom: RE teachers working in faith and non-faith schools were found to have a diverse range of personal worldviews – from atheism to theism, and all positions in between – but each kind of worldview supports a particular vision of what RE should be, and therefore generates an individual’s motivation to be an RE teacher.
2) RE teachers were found to have fair and tolerant views of other religions and worldviews: RE teachers who did or did not have a religious faith, in faith and non-faith schools, were found to have a fair and tolerant approach to religious diversity. However, this study’s findings suggest that RE teachers that have a religious faith were more open to interreligious dialogue and learning from other religions.
3) There was strong agreement among RE teachers that RE contributes to pupils’ character development: RE teachers of diverse worldviews in all kinds of schools believed RE contributes to character education, and RE teachers should act as role models for their pupils.
4) RE teachers that have a religious faith were more likely to think religions promote good character: There were significant differences in perspectives between RE teachers who reported belonging to a religion, and those who did not. The former were found to be more likely to think that religious traditions provide a source of good role models; they were also more likely to care about their impact on pupils’ religious beliefs and to believe pupils emulate their religious views.
The findings of this study confirm the importance of teachers’ personal beliefs and experiences to their professional lives. It is proposed that more opportunities be made available for RE teachers to further reflect on their own worldviews and consider the implications of their personal views for practice. Professional literature and guidelines about RE could be revised to sensitively advise teachers on the best ways to incorporate their own commitments and orientations in their approach to religions in the classroom; these should acknowledge the diversity of teachers’ personal worldviews.
Given the widely held belief found among participants regarding the contribution of RE to pupils’ character development, this report provides evidence to suggest that schools and LEAs should develop coherent rationales and syllabi for RE lessons to create further opportunities for developing character. This would strengthen the provision that RE can make in schools, and also help cultivate the character growth of pupils of all faiths and those of none, through RE.
The full report is available to view here.
A condensed report, articles, discussion papers and relevant blog posts are found here.
The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues is a unique and leading centre for the examination of how character and virtues impact on individuals and society. The Centre was founded in 2012 by Professor James Arthur. Based at the University of Birmingham, it has a dedicated team of 20 academics from a range of disciplines, including: philosophy, psychology, education, theology and sociology.
With its focus on excellence, the Centre has a robust, rigorous research and evidence based approach that is objective and non-political. It offers world-class research on the importance of developing good character and virtues and the benefits they bring to individuals and society. In undertaking its own innovative research, the Centre also seeks to partner with leading academics from other universities around the world and to develop strong strategic partnerships.
A key conviction underlying the existence of the Centre is that the virtues that make up good character can be learnt and taught. We believe these have been largely neglected in schools and in the professions. It is also a key conviction that the more people exhibit good character and virtues, the healthier our society. As such, the Centre undertakes development projects seeking to promote the practical applications of its research evidence.