Do I know enough to teach RE? Responding to the commission on religious education’s recommendation for primary initial teacher education

Linda Whitworth


Recommendation 6 of the Commission on Religious Education’s Final Report has focused attention on teacher preparation in England for Religious Education (RE) during primary Initial Teacher Education (ITE). It recommends at least twelve hours for ‘all forms of primary ITE’, challenging the current provision of many primary ITE providers. Information gathered by the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE) and others demonstrates the need to improve not only the hours taught, but also the quality of provision across all training routes. Many beginner teachers lack confidence in their RE subject knowledge and fear causing offence. If RE is to play a valid part in a twenty-first century primary curriculum, training needs to address these concerns and develop understanding of the complex knowledge the subject requires. This paper explores aspects of knowledge in RE, the importance of relating developing practical wisdom to subject knowledge and considers a project which responds directly to the Commission’s report.


The Commission on Religious Education was established by the Religious Education Council (REC) for England and Wales in 2016. Its purpose was to ‘review the legal, educational and policy frameworks for religious education’ in England (CORE 2017, p. 16). Although established by the REC, the Commission was independent and had the purpose of improving ‘the quality and rigour of religious education and its capacity to prepare pupils for life in modern Britain’ (CORE 2017, p. 106). Its Final Report, Religion and Worldviews: The Way Forward, a national plan for RE (CORE 2018) describes the situation in England where Religious Education (RE) is in a parlous state in many schools. (APPG 2013; Ofsted 2013; NATRE 2017; CORE 2017, 2018; Myatt 2020; Brine and Chater 2020). It outlines reasons for the decline in RE provision in primary/elementary (pupils aged 5–11) and secondary (pupils aged 11–18) schools and proposes eleven recommendations which could improve the understanding and delivery of RE in England if they are developed further. The Report has already galvanised academics, consultants and teachers into new thinking about RE or Religion and Worldviews (RW), as one of the recommendations calls the subject. In particular there have been keen debates around the new name (Recommendation 1), the need for a National Entitlement (Recommendation 2) and the suggested removal of the right to withdraw pupils from RE (Recommendation 11), as well as the proposal for local advisory networks (Recommendation 8). It is important to see the recommendations as a complete and interconnected group, which together set out to provide the impetus for a multi-faceted improvement in the status and provision of the subject. They also need to be seen within the context of a wider range of publications concerning RE and the resulting debate about the nature, content and intentions of the subject (Conroy et al. 2013; Clarke and Woodhead 2015, 2018; The Woolf Institute 2015; Dinham and Shaw 2015; CORE 2017; Castelli and Chater 2018; Chater 2020; Freathy and John 2019). The Commission calls for responses ranging from policy makers and inspectors to local SACREs and classroom teachers. It sets out its own agenda, but it is also embedded in the challenges and developments set out within other reports from the RE community in England and the UK.

Can you be gay in an arranged marriage?Negotiating intersectionality: LGBT+ education in schools serving faith communities

Monday 18th November 2019, 15.30-17.00, room C113

Presenter: Anna Carlile, Goldsmiths

Respondent: Phil Jefferies, Middlesex University

This paper looks at a year-long LGBT+ inclusion programme in primary and secondary schools serving a range of faith communities from a variety of cultural heritages. Many teachers had expressed anxiety about ‘saying the wrong thing’ or thought that students would not take the programme seriously or be unkind. However, the programme had a tangible impact on both teacher confidence and parental engagement with the work.

Character education in Britain: myth-peddling in the classroom

Monday 11th November 2019, 15.30-17.00, room C113

Presenters: Ben Kisby, Lincoln University & Lee Jerome, Middlesex University

This seminar is also the official book launch of ‘The Rise of Character Education in Britain’. We will explore the emergence of a policy community in Britain to promote character education, and discuss some of the problems evident in classroom resources and extra-curricular programmes promoted to schools.

Controversial issues pedagogy in ITE

Presenter: Alex Elwick, Middlesex University.

Monday 7th October 2019, 15.30-17.00, room C113

Respondents: Tremaine Baker, Linda Whitworth, Joe Beasley

This workshop will start with reflections on the practical challenges of controversial issues pedagogy. The discussion will consider whether we could undertake a collaborative research / writing project within ITE teams at Middlesex.

Ethics and on-line research: problematizing the public and private

Professional Education and Partnerships (PEP) Seminar

Date: Monday 3rd February 2020

Time: 15.30-17.00

Location: Middlesex University, room C113

Organiser: Dr Lee Jerome (

Dr Jai Mackenzie, School of English, University of Nottingham

Kevin McDonald, Professor & Head of Department of Criminology and Sociology, Middlesex University

This seminar will feature two colleagues reflecting on their experiences of conducting on-line research in contrasting projects (radicalization, Mumsnet and LGBT parenting). The discussion will focus on the ethical dimension to such work, with a particular focus on using pre-existing data from social media and on-line forums. This event is being organised with the Education Ethics Sub-Committee and colleagues from all departments / faculties are welcome.

Paper 1: Researching online parenting communities: A context-sensitive approach

Jai Mackenzie, University of Nottingham

In recent years, researchers across disciplines have discovered stimulating opportunities to study human interaction, behaviour and sociability online. But with these opportunities come concerns for the human subjects who produce online ‘data’, most notably, their rights to privacy, autonomy and freedom from harm. In this presentation, I outline some key ethical challenges and considerations for researchers of digital contexts and communication, using two case studies from my qualitative explorations of online parenting communities as examples. The first of these studies focuses on digital interactions collected from the popular Mumsnet Talk parenting discussion forum, whilst the second draws on both interview and digital data from ongoing engagement with diverse and marginalised families who regularly use digital media. I explain some of the challenges around research design and ethical decision-making in relation to each of these studies, before outlining my approach to considerations of the public/private dichotomy, participants’ autonomy, and sensitivity to the norms of shifting and multiple digital research contexts. Ultimately, I suggest that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to ethical internet research, but that a case-based, context-sensitive approach is necessary if researchers are to make sensitive, informed ethical judgements that minimise the risk of harm to data subjects and participants.

Paper 2: Researching Radicalization

Kevin McDonald, Middlesex University

In this paper Kevin will discuss the digital ethnography he undertook for his 2018 book ‘Radicalization’. During 2013-15 there was a vast amount of jihadist material on different social media platforms. Whilst much of this has since been removed there remains a significant digital footprint that allows us to capture radicalization as a lived experience. One example is provided by Aqsa Mahmood’s social media profile(s) which demonstrate how she constructed an experiential world structured around an opposition between purity and impurity, but where humour continues to play crucial role, both as a mechanism of inclusion (who is in the ‘fam’) and as a means to say what is unsayable. Such research is helpful for generating insights about radicalization as a process produced by active participants, not simply something done to people. But it also involves ethical questions around access and legality (as organisations and material can be so tightly controlled by different governments).

PhEMaterialist encounters with glitter: the materialisation of ethics, politics and care in arts-based research

Rebecca Coleman, Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London, e- mail
Jayne Osgood, Centre for Education Research & Scholarship, Middlesex University, e-mail

This paper re-turns to a workshop we co-organised in London in 2018 as part of a series called ‘how to do sociology with…’ (Methods Lab, Sociology Department, Goldsmiths, University of London). The series aims to consider what happens when the materials, media, objects, devices and atmospheres of social research central to our practices are brought into focus. The specific material that we worked with and thought through in this workshop was glitter – a thing that is ubiquitous in early childhood and in wider feminine, gay, and queer cultures. We draw on new materialist theories, methods and practice research to consider how preparing and dismantling this workshop might be understood as a means of enacting feminist new materialism. We do this not to propose a blueprint for how new materialisms should be done so much as to offer a series of questions, reflections, and diffractions on what unfolded and the affective and embodied traces that were left. In this sense, the paper understands arts-based practice to hold unanticipated pedagogical capacities which we attend to throughout the paper in terms of ethics, politics and care. We dwell upon ethics politics and care by drawing on long-standing feminist arguments regarding what is often neglected in written accounts of doing research and by focusing on the affective work involved in designing, choreographing, and managing a workshop that asked participants to seriousplay (Haraway, 2016) with glitter and explore its material and affective properties. We discuss our own discomfort with, and uncertainty about, organising such a workshop, and go on to outline what we see as the productive aspects and implications of orchestrating a glitter workshop for how we might conceive and do new materialist work. This includes a discussion about the response-ability of seriousplay with plastic in the contemporary climate, and more broadly about what new materialist methods and practice research might contribute to an understanding of educational and social research, and pedagogical and political practice. Throughout, photographs taken by us before, during, and after the workshop are included, to not only illustrate the points we make and give readers/viewers a different sense of the workshop, but also extend what might count as academic knowledge production and circulation.

Reconceptualizing Educational Research Methodology 2019, 2,3(2) Special Issue

Keywords: glitter, feminist new materialisms, methods, arts-based methods, practice research, pedagogy, ethics, politics, care

Dean's Lecture Series 2020 Alternative Understandings About How Matter Comes to Matter in the Baby Room. Presented by Dr Jayne Osgood, Professor in Education (Early Years & Gender)

Date: Monday 24 February 2020 
Time:  5.15pm – pre-lecture refreshments and registration, 6pm – lecture
Venue: Theatre Q230, Level 2, Melbourne Graduate School of Education, Kwong Lee Dow Building, 234 Queensberry St,
The University of Melbourne

In this lecture, Dr Jayne Osgood attempts a reconfiguration of ‘diversity’ in early childhood contexts by turning attention to everyday matter(s). Considering data that draws into sharp focus multimodal materials and embodiment to argue for an opened-out view of diversity. The aim of the lecture is to examine how we might move beyond narrow formulations of ‘diversity’ in early childhood and instead attend to the possibilities that arise through thinking deeply and sensing ordinary routines and everyday situations. Inspired by Haraway (2016:35) Dr Osgood tells different stories about childhood diversity than those generated through curriculum frameworks, inspection regimes, and pedagogical practices. Haraway stresses: “It matters what thoughts think thoughts. It matters what knowledges know knowledge. It matters what relations relate relations. It matters what worlds world worlds. It matters what stories tell stories.”  In order to generate other stories, this lecture pays attention to how stories come about, how they come to hold currency and the affects that they have. Considering the material-semiotic-discursive and affective entanglements that unfold during the ‘celebration’ of festivals, events and celebrations within an early years setting to try to gain some purchase on understandings about other stories. Particular attention is given to the materialised and embodied celebration of Chinese New Year as it plays out in the baby room. Professor Osgood argues that adopting a feminist new materialist approach demands that the world is viewed differently – as material-discursive and that our human-centric place in the world must be reassessed.
  Dr Jayne Osgood, Professor in Education (Early Years & Gender), Middlesex University London.      
Dr Jayne Osgood is a Professor of Education (Early Years & Gender) based at the Centre for Education Research & Scholarship, Middlesex University. Her present methodologies and research practices are framed by feminist new materialism. Through her work she seeks to maintain a concern with issues of social justice and to critically engage with early childhood policy, curricular frameworks and pedagogical approaches. Her work extends understandings about the workforce, families, ‘the child’ and ‘childhood’ in early years contexts. She has published extensively within the postmodernist paradigm including Special Issues of the journal Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood (2006, 2016, 2017 and 2019) and Narratives from the Nursery: negotiating professional identities in Early Childhood (Routledge, 2012) and most recently Feminist Thought in Childhood Research (Bloomsbury, 2019) and Post-developmental Approaches to Childhood Art (Bloomsbury, 2019). She is on the editorial boards of several journals including Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, and is currently Editor of Gender & Education Journal and Editor of Reconceptualising Education Research Methodology.  

Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak Eco-poetic Entanglements:

A New Materialist and Post-qualitative Approach to Poetry Written by Children Children’s literature written by child authors, or another children’s literature, is attracting a growing scholarly interest as a form of young people’s participation in culture and as an expression of their perspectives on their own childhoods and general social and political phenomena in which they participate. Drawing on new materialist, relational and post-qualitative approaches, including the concept of anarchive and walking methods, Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak discusses a discursive-material approach to children’s texts that she is currently developing in her research on the corpus of ecopoetry created by pupils from John Clare Primary School in Helpston. She argues that individual and collective intergenerational encounters with the children’s poems may generate moments, affects and events that result in new entanglements of matter and meaning. Moreover, as Justyna’s project is of participatory nature and involves children as co-creators of the research process, it promotes diversity of knowledge production that may substantially contribute to developing a shared sense of belonging to and responsibility for our world so that we can live in it as well as possible. Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak is Associate Professor of Literature and Director of the Center for Young People’s Literature and Culture at the Institute of English Studies, University of Wroclaw, Poland. She is the author of Yes to Solidarity, No to Oppression: Radical Fantasy Fiction and Its Young Readers (2016). She is a Kosciuszko, Fulbright and Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow. Since 2017 she has served as a member of the executive board of the International Research Society for Children’s Literature. She is now a visiting researcher at Anglia Ruskin University, working on Ecopoetic Entanglements: Children’s Poetry Mobilizing John Clare’s Artistic Legacy, a project funded by the Bekker Programme of the Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange (NAWA).

“To decolonise, or not to decolonise, that is the question?” Comparing value transmission in British and Australian English classrooms

Date: Monday 27th April 2020

Time: 15:30-17:00

Address: Middlesex University, The Burroughs, Hendon, NW4 4BR

Can we stop the transmission of injustice issues through the teaching and reading of English literary texts? The visceral and deleterious nature of the propagation of ‘colonial’ values is well discussed in sociological fields in terms of the ‘hidden curriculum’ (Apple, 2004) and theories of social reproduction (Bourdieu, 1986; Bernstein, 1981). However, such approaches tend to take a ‘black box’ construction of the classroom and focus on the mechanics of material persistency in wider society (Morrow & Torres, 1995), rather than critical resistance, thereby ignoring the complexities of social and psychological interactions at various levels of schooling. With the more recent attention placed on decolonising the education curriculum amongst other practices, this talk dives into the complexities of and with the possibilities of such a process.

Examining the interconnectivity of the relevant spaces and theoretical frameworks has important implications for the way we think about resisting social injustice and the role of the ‘hidden curriculum’ in education. Jogie’s 2020 book promotes the importance of overseeing the connections that are overlooked in the endorsement (politics), teaching (pedagogy) and assimilation (students) of English literary texts using a comparative study of UK and Australian senior secondary curricula. Drawing on inspiration from Foucault, Adorno and Ricoeur, this seminar will demonstrate how a reinvigorated and interdisciplinary postcolonial approach can attend to such questions as: • How are English literary texts selected to be on prescribed school lists in the UK and Australia? • Are teachers prepared to deal with multiculturalism and latent issues of citizenship and identity in texts? • What do present ‘decolonisation’ and ‘multicultural’ education agendas have in common? • Do league tables and students’ perceived abilities factor into schools’ text selection, and how does this interact with curriculum direction? • What are the effects of text coupling strategies and new text formats (Visual Media) on students’ engagement with English Literature? Biography: Melissa’s research focuses on cultural reproduction and social injustice drawing from scholarly fields of philosophy, sociology, psychology, economics, literature and education. Her forthcoming book Transmission of Colonial Values (2020, Routledge) establishes a meta-theory of knowledge reproduction known as the ‘postcolonial hegemonies of knowledge’. Her insights into social and cultural reproduction have led to her recent award of a British Academy Grant to a UK-Australia Knowledge Frontier Forum to work with a small group of selected scholars on the shaping of the ‘future’ of research in the humanities and social sciences. While completing her PhD at the Australian National University (2017), she was awarded a Visiting Fellowship at the University of Oxford, Department for Education, Centre for Comparative and International Education (2015). Her publication ‘Desperate Shadows of Belonging’ inspired changing the Education Curriculum in NSW Australia and was nominated by the Australian Educational Researcher Journal for ‘Paper of the Year’, 2015. She also holds two international awards for presentations on her research from the University of Hong Kong (Faculty of Social Sciences, 2013) and the RMIT University (European Union Centres Graduate Workshop, 2014). Her projects and publications can be found at