Tuesday 4 April 2017

Lancashire Student Voice Debate on Religious Education

As part of our work as Young Ambassadors for the RE Council, a group of students from Broughton High School attended a national debate on Religious Education at Westminster last summer. Inspired by this, they were keen to help organise a similar event for local schools and worked with Lancashire SACRE to organise an event. Eight secondary schools from across Lancashire were involved and gathered at County Hall to debate current issues in RE, including the importance of religiously literacy and the right of withdrawal. A wide a range of views were expressed, but the overwhelming view was that in the modern world, a good knowledge and understanding of the different faiths and beliefs that exist in society will benefit young people both now and in later life.  As one student said: “If we don’t know about each other’s religious beliefs how can we ever tolerate, accept and hopefully understand the actions of other human beings.”

Another student made the point that RE should be inclusive of all faiths and none in order to be valued by all and that more people needed to understand that RE today is not about teaching people to BE religious, but to help them to develop a better knowledge and understanding of their own beliefs and values and those of others: “You don’t have to practise or be a part of something to value and understand it.”

All the students agreed that it was important to have good RE in schools. They raised questions about where young people could learn about religious and ethical issues if RE did not exist. Many felt that in the modern world, where so many news stories are about such issues, but where people need to be able to analyse, interpret and think critically about what they see in the media that good RE was vital for all pupils in all types of schools.

One area of concern raised by the students was the importance of properly trained RE teachers. It was felt that there was a lot of specialist knowledge and skills needed to teach RE well and that where problems existed in RE it was often because teachers lacked the specialism and confidence required.

The Chair of Lancashire SACRE, Mr Peter Martin, said "the debate produced remarkable responses from the young people, who had been prepared for the event by their teachers, but who had to rely on their own wits, words and wisdom to conduct themselves in a strange environment, on their feet and in the company of strangers. Their behaviour and manners were exemplary".

Many thanks to the schools involved and to their teachers who clearly put a lot of time and effort into preparing their students for the debate.
The feedback from all who attended was extremely positive and we hope to organise another debate next year.  

Reported by Zara Adam and Hannah Clements

Friday 4 November 2016

Comparing RE in the UK and the Netherlands

In October, Mr Asje Palland, a teacher of Philosophy and RE from the Netherlands came to visit the RE department at our school for a week. The team of RE ambassadors were all very excited to meet him and discuss the similarities and differences between RE in the Netherlands and here in the UK.
Asje started off the meeting by asking us all to introduce ourselves and tell him what we like about RE. We all enjoy the subject so this wasn’t a difficult task!

 “I like RE because it gives you the chance to explore ways that different people live and it helps you to understand what they do and why they do it.”

“Our school is very diverse and I like RE because during a class discussion on a particular faith there is usually a person with that religion or belief in our class, so they help us understand the religion from their perspective and tell us about how they put their beliefs into practice.”

“I like RE because it helps me to understand other people’s beliefs and it always makes me think of the big question ‘why?’

We then spoke about what RE is like in our school and compared to RE in Asje’s school in the Netherlands. Students at both schools show great interest in the subject. In both schools ‘big questions’ are asked in RE lessons. RE is also a compulsory subject at both schools. The school in the Netherlands isn’t as diverse as Broughton, with the majority of its students being Christian or not having any religious belief. The school in the Netherlands teach Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and a little bit about Judaism whilst at our school we also learn about Sikhism and Buddhism. A major difference was the fact that in Dutch state schools Religious Education is not taught at all, however Asje’s school - Carolus Clusius College - is a Christian school and so RE is part of the school curriculum.
Carolus Clusius College is also an international school and this means that Asje teaches Philosophy and RE in English. Asje told us that learning English is crucial to students’ futures. If students go on to university all of the books and lectures will be in English and so learning the language and specialist terms within subjects like RE was an important part of academic preparation. We were surprised that they do not have any exams for RE in The Netherlands. Students learn the subject in order to prepare for life, not to sit an exam. 
Their school day is organised differently to ours. School starts at 8:15, but can finish at 2:40, 3:30 or 4:20 depending on the particular students timetable. Students have free periods for private study. In RE they also have something called a ‘quest card’. This allows students to skip the lesson to go and do further independent research on an aspect of the topic that particularly interests them. 

We also had the opportunity to ask Asje about his own religious beliefs. Asje is a Christian, but his daughter’s husband is a Messianic Jew and he was very proud to tell us about his grandson's recent Bar Mitzvah in Israel and show us some photographs of it. We had not heard of Messianic Jews before and it was really interesting to learn more about the diversity that exists in religion.

Asje was also keen to hear some of our big questions and why we believe that RE is so important. We discussed:

How can God exist when such bad things happen?
Why do people go to war?
Is there one ‘truth’ or many?

Finally, we spoke about how our actions can affect others and about the need to be informed about religion and beliefs so that we can challenge perceptions and begin to understand the bigger picture.

It was fascinating to hear about RE in another country. We hope to keep in touch with Mr Palland and to develop links with Carolus Clusius College.

Report by Zara Adam

Post Script:

"I would like to say thank you to Mr Morris who gave permission for my visit,
thank you to Hannah and Sophie who guided me through the buildings of the school,
thank you to Ms Jennifer Wozniack for a very vivid lesson in French,
thank you to the RE Ambassadors for an open meeting about RE in the Netherlands and in Broughton High School and about a lot of great questions of life,
thank you to all the pupils: they were really kind, open and polite,
thank you to all the colleagues for their interest and good fellowship and above all I would like to say thank you to Joanne and Vicky for their friendship. We will meet again!"

Asje Palland
teacher of Philosophy and Religious Education
Carolus Clusius College, Zwolle, the Netherlands

Sunday 12 October 2014

Mf Summertime Regular
This quote is from Pope Paul in 1972, but is still relevant to our world today. As part of our GCSE RS course we are beginning to look at issues of Peace and Justice. However, there are many links with our previous unit on Wealth and Poverty. Peace is more than just the absence of war; in order for us to have a more peaceful world we need to look at ways in which we can make our world a fairer place.
This week our year 11s were visited by former deputy head Mr Cocker who spoke about his lengthy commitment to Christian Aid and why he has chosen to get more actively involved with the organisation since his retirement.
His visit raised many questions, including:
  • Why should Christians help the poor?
  • Does physical poverty matter as much as spiritual poverty? 
  • If it is a Christian duty to “Love one another”, how does this belief turn into action?
After showing the clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Di2XNRLCgw Mr Cocker spoke about his response to the idea of a ‘God of Justice’. The issues raised by poverty, injustice and suffering are often reasons given by people who do not believe in a God. How can a good, all-powerful God allow such things to happen? If God is a God of justice, why does he leave us in this situation? It seems unfair? However, Mr Cocker believes that Christianity calls people to serve, not to be served and to speak up for those with no voice.  For him, the answer is that the challenge is handed over to us to do something about this injustice. The quote from mother Teresa "I see God in every human being" is a direct challenge to all Christians even though it is sometimes difficult to put into action. Christians need to ask themselves some difficult questions when faced with poverty and injustice - how should we respond to those begging on the street? What is the best way we can help? How should we serve? How do we ensure that we recognise God in all people?
He then explained the many practical ways that Christian Aid helps communities. An important area is that of emergency aid – providing food and shelter in response to disasters. One of the aims of Christian Aid is to do this in a way that is beneficial to the local community and enables people to help themselves. Most importantly, people in desperate situations need hope that there is something better around the corner. The Christian Aid slogan “we believe in life before death” is a reminder of this message of hope.

An example of this is Christian Aid’s work in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010. Christian Aid was one of first charities on the scene as they had an office there. The first priority was to look after immediate needs. For Christian Aid, it is important that the food given out following a disaster is locally produced so that it also helps to build up the local economy. Food package distribution, along with giving people basic cooking sets was essential. After this, the next step is provision of emergency shelter. Christian Aid does give financial help to people following disasters. They believe that this is important as it gives people dignity in accepting help. Those in need should be allowed to decide for themselves what they most need. It is essential that we recognise the importance of looking after the whole person – and not just for the short term. We need to think of the future and provide psychological support for those affected and training in much needed areas such as construction. The people of Haiti are strong and with Christian Aid support there is hope after this tragedy.
In other places, long term aid is needed. An example of this is Bangladesh where repeated flooding is an ongoing problem. Christians Aid has supported new types of farming which enable families to survive. Duck farming has been a very successful initiative as ducks can survive the flooding, unlike crops. There is a need to find sustainable solutions through working with local communities.
On a more personal level, some of the issues of injustice in the world are sometimes difficult for us to know what is best, especially in conflict zones. Regardless of the politics, we have a responsibility to help those affected by conflict. In places like Gaza a massive concern is the demolition of homes and the emotional impact that the bombardment has had on children who think that fighting is just part of life. If we want hope for the future we must provide for the children.
Christian Aid helps all people regardless of faith. They do what they because they are Christians, not because they want those they help to become Christians.
Find out more about the work of Christian Aid:

Saturday 6 September 2014

Thursday 19 June 2014

Truetube Voiceover Superstars

In April our year 8 students wrote produced some great pieces of work in response to the ‘Jesus Christ Superstar voiceover’ competition run by Truetube.com to write a voiceover script to accompany 3 clips retelling key aspects of the Easter story. We were really pleased to find out that one of our entries - written by Tom Hanigan and Dan Flynn - had been chosen as the winner for the resurrection section. As a consequence, they were invited to London to visit Truetube to record their work.
During our train journey it was difficult to tell if Dan was more excited (and nervous) about the visit or for tonight’s England match in the World Cup. It was definitely the football that dominated the conversation!

Once we arrived at the Truetube office, Tom volunteered to be first in the recording studio whilst Dan listened in through the headset in the next room.
Tom said "doing the first line was a bit nerve wracking but after that I got into it and the rest was fine. They let me read through it several times until we were happy with the result."
Next it was Dan's turn. "I needed to speak clearly and really emphasise certain words. It was strange listening back to my own voice afterwards." Both boys were recorded reading the full script which will then be edited and combined for the final voiceover along with the other two winning entries from St. Mary’s in Blackpool and Wycombe High School.
Both boys received a certificate and a framed copy of the DVD.
On the way home it was clear that the boys had really enjoyed the experience. Tom thought it was great just “being in London, seeing how a recording studio works and eating the millionaire shortbread at lunchtime."
We look forward to seeing the final product. Many thanks to Truetube.com and to our student teacher Miss Searle whose teaching led to the boys creating such a thoughtful response.

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Big questions asked as part of our GCSE REvision conference

As part of their exam preparation, students had the opportunity to question representatives from faith communities about their responses to some of the issues that are on the GCSE syllabus. We are very grateful to the members of the Preston Faith Forum who gave their time to come in and speak to our students.

Approximate transcript of the Broughton Big Questions REvision session:
Saskia: What are your views on the recent legalisation of gay marriage?
BUDDHIST: I believe it’s a great thing. Personally, as a Buddhist I believe in equality and freedom of choice.
MUSLIM: As Muslims, we believe that marriage is only for the opposite sex. We would not be happy with someone being in a gay marriage, but would treat that person with respect.  Personally, I would try to deal with it in a spiritual way and they would be welcome in the mosque. In my opinion this is not conducive to society.
CATHOLIC: The Catholic view is that marriage is for one man and woman, but as a member of the state I accept equal marriage. Equality is right and correct in UK law. However, as Christian I would not recognise it as a marriage as it goes against Catholic teaching.  On a personal level, I would like the Church to recognise these relationships with a blessing. I would say that it is something about which people must make their own mind up before God.  Life's complicated; you just have to do the best you can and pray deeply.
FREE METHODIST: As a Free Methodist I would hold the same view, marriage is between a man and woman.
ANGLICAN: The Church of England has a wide perspective on this issue. Some ministers would like to allow gay marriage, but the official line is that they do not. A Christian marriage is between a man and woman. In my personal opinion, it is so rare to find someone who really understands and loves you; we must recognise that sometimes you might find that person from the same gender.

Beth – Can you clarify the differing views on leadership of women in the Catholic Church?CATHOLIC: In the Catholic Church, ordination to the priesthood is not open for women. Ministry is exclusively for men. In the early church women served others in community as deacons - caring for the sick, the poor and teaching.  Although there are no ordained roles for women in the Catholic Church, there are many other roles that women can take on in the church. The Pope has appointed women to senior, influential but non ordained posts in the Vatican.

Lily: Should we intervene in cases like Syria? Even if leads to war?
BUDDHIST: As a Buddhist I believe that harming others is wrong. In situations like this we need to weigh up wisdom. What is the greatest benefit for greatest number? How can we know?  Do no harm is an essential part of Buddhist belief in karma.  We would say that if you send people to war you are ultimately responsible for their deaths. It requires great wisdom to know that what you do will be effective.
MUSLIM: The Prophet (pbuh) said "Do not wish to meet the enemy, but if you do, you must stand firm".  I recently spent 3 days in Syria providing humanitarian aid. The people of Syria are normal people, who see victory as withstanding aggression. They have been withstanding aggression for over two years. There has to be someone who can stop this sort of evil. If you see something is wrong you should try to stop it with your hand, if you can't then with your tongue, if you can't, then with your heart. We need to pray that this will stop, but war and conflict is part of life.
ANGLICAN: When I worked in the armed police I had the authority to tell people that they could use bullets in certain situations. This weighed heavily on me as a Christian. That bullet could be used to take a life.  I had to see it as part of working for the greater good.
FREE METHODIST: Christianity is principally about love, forgiveness and restoration. Reconciliation is part of the Christian requirement to love your neighbour as yourself. When does the suffering of a nation require us to intervene? Ultimately it is a question of proportion. What is a proportionate response to the current situation?
CATHOLIC: War is an evil and great harm is done. In our response to these situations we must be compassionate and wise. There is a call for Christians to do something for those who suffer. However, war is now at such a scale now that the innocent will always suffer. We need to recognise the brokenness of humanity.

 Abbie - What are your views about the death penalty?
MUSLIM: Islamic teaching is very clear.  In Islam the criteria to accuse someone of a crime punishable by death is very high and must reach complete certainty. There is a high price for serious crimes to act as a deterrent. Taking someone's life is obviously something that must be paid for. This is justice.
CATHOLIC: Christianity teaches the sanctity of life. God gives life and only God can take it away. As long as someone is alive there is an opportunity for them to change. They should be made to serve their sentence so that they have the opportunity for reform.
Ellie – But what if someone is a risk to others?

FREE METHODIST: I would say that there needs to be a place to house such people. Killing them is not the answer.          
Ellie – but it’s not very humane to cage someone
BUDDHIST: As a Buddhist I would say it is both a humane and compassionate response and allows the opportunity for change
Ellie – What if they murdered your child?

FREE METHODIST: The bible challenges us to forgive
CATHOLIC: I know of the example of Christian parents whose son was the victim of a gang murder. They went on to work with gangs to try to prevent anything like this from happening again.  They didn't want death penalty because they recognised that the murderer was someone else's son.
In my opinion it can never be right to take a life or institutionalise death.

ANGLICAN: It is in relatively recent times that the death penalty has been abolished in the UK. In my view it is wrong because there is always the possibility of a mistake.
Ellie - What should be the alternative?

BUDDHIST: It’s an alternative view, but as a Buddhist I would say it is not through punishment. People who commit crimes need help and support to stop such actions. They need a combination of help as well as preventing them from doing further harm.
CATHOLIC: As a Christian I would say that some punishment is appropriate to protect people and serves as a penalty for those who do wrong - but reform needs to also be built in.
ANGLICAN:  If people are very disturbed, some of our prisons cater for these people, many of whom could be classed as seriously mentally ill, but also are very dangerous criminals.
MUSLIM: There are illnesses that affect the mind in the same way as there are illnesses that affect the body. These people need treatment. But we need to explore solutions to the problems of society.

Miss Backhouse: What reasons would you give for your belief in God?

BUDDHIST: Buddhists don't believe in a god, although it depends how you define god. We believe that all things are created by our own mind. There is obviously a creator but we must ask who and what this is.
MUSLIM: I believe in a superior creator who is beyond everything. I was born a Muslim, but my faith has grown stronger and stronger throughout life. The Quran contains great knowledge about our world and I see it as a scientific proof of its truth. To me, God is an omnipotent being. The Prophet (pbuh) described god as having 99 names or qualities. These are unchanging.
CATHOLIC: How do you know that you exist? We can't prove our own existence, there is no concrete final proof that we exist, even Descartes couldn’t do that - we need to make a leap of faith. The reasons for my faith in my own existence come from my faith in God. To me there is a God, the source of all that is; the reason for love and our ultimate destiny - but this cannot be proven. You have to have a starting point even to believe in physics. My starting point is my faith in God.
FREE METHODIST: I made a decision to become a Christian at 14. If you go out and look at the night sky you will see the vastness of the universe. Whatever we look at in the world we can ask, is this purely by chance? To me Christianity makes sense as a religion. I feel although I have grown and developed and built a relationship with God. When I worship and pray there is an indescribable sense of God’s presence. I see lives changed by knowing god. To me, this is a form of evidence
ANGLICAN: I would also say that I have a relationship with God. I believe that He is everywhere and that we are made in his image. It is a personal relationship.

Thursday 20 March 2014

Broughton Young Ambassadors for RE: The importance of RE for good community relations

The Religious Education Council and the APPG for RE have carried out an inquiry into RE and community relations. On Monday 17th March, a good practice document was presented at Westminster. The Broughton Young Ambassadors for RE were invited to the event to speak about why RE is  so important for good community relations. This is what our students had to say:

The world that we live in is a diverse place. There are the obvious examples of diversity such as religion, gender and race, but we also need to consider the importance of diverse thinking and the need to have dialogue between the vast range of differing opinions and beliefs that make up our communities.
Sadly, there are many barriers to good community relations; stereotypes, prejudice and ignorance cause community relations to suffer tremendously. In our modern world young people are bombarded by information from the media, but often lack the skills to filter this information and to question its accuracy.  To combat this it is clear that education is essential. The willingness to enter into dialogue with others, to question and to develop your own opinion is an important element of RE.

 RE helps us to understand the complex and diverse communities that we live in and gives us an understanding of the role we have to play within these communities. RE offers the opportunity to consider our own place within the global community and can allow us to broaden our ways of thinking and reflect on issues from different cultural perspectives. As our communities become more and more globalised, an understanding of the beliefs, values and lifestyles of others is essential to build respectful relationships based on mutual understanding.
Good RE helps us to understand and behave respectfully towards others. Religious Education does not teach us what to think or tell us that one belief system is better than another, but it encourages us to examine the different views that are held within our world and to understand the impact that these beliefs have on individuals and communities. There are times when we may not understand or even respect the opinions of others, and this is why good RE is vital – to teach us how to disagree respectfully and to still be able to live side by side in peace.

 Really good RE should aim to move beyond the respectful disagreement and allow us to see the whole person. Recently, our school’s youth voice group for RE worked with representatives from faith communities to present workshops at the Lancashire SACRE youth conference. At the end of the day the faith speakers were asked what they had gained from the event and what message they hoped young people would take away from the conference. The representative from the Islamic faith felt that it was really important that young people had the opportunity to meet members of religious communities in order for them to be able to see beyond the external appearance and because of this to then have confidence to talk with those different from themselves. This is an essential part of good community relations. If people are to learn how to get along they must first learn to talk to one another.

 Religious Education provides a unique opportunity to bring people together with the common goal of promoting understanding and respecting differences. This is a good start to developing community relations.
Engaging with real people of faith allows us to see past the stereotype and challenge misconceptions. The parable of the Good Samaritan teaches that we need to take our responsibility as good neighbours seriously    but we often need to find some common ground with people who are different to us in order to see them as neighbours. Good RE celebrates the wonderful diversity of our communities but also enables us to see the bigger picture of religion as an expression of the human search for meaning, purpose and truth. It turns the “man in a dress” into a human being who is as easy to talk to as anyone else; it turns the “lady with the red dot on her head” into a friendly and devoted grandmother. These are the people we want as neighbours, the people who we can talk to and share our communities with. 
This is why RE in schools is so important. In English we read novels with a diverse range of characters, but this is exactly what they are – characters as opposed to real living people that we can engage with. In History we examine the impact that religions and religious people have had on our world – but this is the past and is often unhelpful for interpreting the world we live in today. In PSHE and citizenship we discuss the importance of social cohesion and how we can be better citizens – but this is not the same as gaining a real depth of understanding about the importance of religious beliefs to a person of faith so that we can show respect for their traditions and lifestyles, even when they differ greatly from our own.
Of course, religion is not the only barrier to cohesive communities. There are many view-points and lifestyles that some members of our society find difficult to tolerate, but again, RE is often the only place in school where these issues are investigated in any depth. For example; how have social attitudes changed regarding homosexual relationships? What about the way in which society treats the elderly or the disabled? Do we really value everyone in our community? What about issues surrounding poverty and inequality?  Or responses to racism and immigration? All of these potentially divisive aspects of living in the modern world are part of my GCSE Religious Studies syllabus. We have already acknowledged that it is largely ignorance that leads to prejudice and intolerance within communities. If more people studied these issues in depth it would begin to challenge some of these views and build bridges between people of differing social, economic and cultural backgrounds.

 There are many people in our communities who for a variety of reasons do not feel that they are listened to. For some, this leads to apathy and a general feeling of discontentment. For others, feeling excluded from society causes them to turn to extremist groups which only serve to distance them further from the wider community and promotes hatred rather than tolerance and understanding.  Neither of these help to develop a cohesive community.  A good RE lesson is one that is inclusive and enables all people to feel that they have been heard. I myself am quite an opinionated person. In RE lessons I often have very different opinions to the rest of the class. However, I am still listened to and even when others disagree with me they do so in a way that is respectful. In this way, RE provides a model for discussion, debate and disagreement. It is important that our RE teachers are properly trained to handle discussions surrounding controversial issues so that young people grow up knowing how to express their view in a way that is both sensitive and respectful without necessarily agreeing with others. For communities to be truly cohesive they must also be inclusive.

Good community relations involve all people feeling a sense of belonging to the society in which they live, it involves living side by side in peace, it involves recognising the value that all people contribute to our communities and accepting that there are times when we will disagree, but that this is simply part of being human.
Our world is a diverse place where the lives of people of faith and none intertwine together to build good community relations. In Religious Education there is an important responsibility to teach the information needed to ensure that these relations are founded on knowledge and genuine encounter as opposed to perception and prejudice. Good RE is essential to help young people like myself to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to play our part in today's society and tomorrow's world.