An RE syllabus for all faiths
Educating Pupils and the Community - the Birmingham Agreed Syllabus for Religious Education
An agreed method of teaching RE across Birmingham has been running successfully since 2008. An initiative involving all the religious traditions and backed by Birmingham City Council, it has led to a growing solidarity in the city. All the schools across the city have easy access to the Agreed Syllabus. Local Authority Schools are required to teach the Agreed Syllabus and most Academies and Free Schools choose to continue to teach it. Church and other Faith schools make use of the resources provided by the Syllabus.
The Agreed Syllabus is based on ‘the 24 Dispositions’. Children’s learning is steered from a series of 24 dispositions, agreed by all the major faiths within Birmingham. Taken together, they unfold to a growing picture of a child’s spiritual makeup. The emphasis is on learning from faith rather than about religious traditions. This places the emphasis on the development of pupils in community and makes religious traditions subordinate to this goal.
When in 2005 Birmingham Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE) advised the City that its 1995 Religious Education Agreed Syllabus required to be reviewed, it also signalled the syllabus would need to be significantly revised.
From the outset the Bishop, Archbishop and all the members of the Faith Leaders Group in Birmingham were approached in face to face discussion and encouraged to nominate their most able representatives. The condition was explicitly stated that these representatives should have a deep knowledge and appreciation of their particular faith tradition.
It is the ownership of the Agreed Syllabus in Birmingham and the City Council’s commitment to the cultivation of the 24 dispositions which have brought all the religious traditions together.
With the DVD Faith makes a difference teachers can show the dynamic faiths in Birmingham living out the dispositions within their classrooms. Clips include members of the Muslim faith sorting clothes at an Islamic Relief depot and talking about their motives for getting involved; Rastafari peace officers talking about living out their faith in Handsworth and Street Pastors working on the streets with members of rival gangs. Teachers in Birmingham are beginning to see that the syllabus is making a difference within their classrooms.
The most significant effect of the Agreed Syllabus is the manner in which teachers are focusing and teaching the subject of RE – making it more dynamic and relevant to the pupils in their classroom – the ‘learning from’ aspect has enabled this to happen where it was less of a focus before. Pupils are beginning to see an answer to the question “what’s the relevance?” Hopefully in the next few years there will be more of this development as the syllabus develops the conative dimension of the children and young people within the city, active and keen to change the world.
We are still continuing to work with faith communities on developing further lesson plans for their faith traditions. The website is also receiving exemplars from the teaching community within Birmingham. All in all, RE in Birmingham is caught up in a very dynamic process that should remain active until the next formal syllabus revision.
The Birmingham Agreed Syllabus for Religious Education can be viewed on www.faithmakesadifference.co.uk. Click on Faith Communities and then on Faith Leaders and Politicians to view an introductory film.
The Agreed Syllabus has produced positive outcomes at community level. A report from Birmingham City Council Scrutiny Committee refers to the contribution that the 24 dispositions are making to Community Cohesion (the full report is available to download here – see points 5.2.7 – 5.2.14)
Schools across Birmingham of all faiths are using the Agreed Syllabus. This includes community schools, church schools, Muslim schools and Sikh schools, for example, click here to see a page from the Nishkam High School Prospectus which is part of the group of Sikh Free Schools in Birmingham and which is guided in its school ethos by the 24 Dispositions devised by Birmingham SACRE.
For a more detailed description of the Agreed Syllabus initiative, click here to read a chapter from “The 2007 Birmingham Agreed Syllabus: Educating Pupils and the Community” Dr Marius Felderhof and Simone E. Whitehouse in M. Grimmitt (ed.) (2010) Religious Education and Social and Community Cohesion, McCrimmons, Great Wakering.
You may also be interested to see the Birmingham Faith Map www.birminghamfaithmap.org.uk