Leading and managing a secondary RE department
Managing and leading a secondary RE department is never an easy task. I’ve spent most of my leadership time fighting for curriculum hours and resources and I’m sure this applies to many other curriculum leaders for RE. Once the leadership team and governing body are on side then life can be a little easier.
Leading by example
The key is to lead by example: encourage department colleagues to observe each other and offer ideas for possible lessons; share strategies that have worked and explain why others have not; as leader be prepared to deal with behaviour management issues when asked by colleagues (keeping to school policy procedure) and run department detention sessions when necessary. Offering support and a “shoulder to cry on” at crucial times can work wonders. Listen to colleagues and take on board suggestions for changes to schemes of work - it’s important not to dismiss these changes outright as department colleagues work best as a team when they know they are valued. More importantly, ensure all department colleagues have an opportunity for professional training and development. Sometimes this can occur in-house but often courses are offered within county or nationally that may not only benefit the teacher on a professional level but also the school student body. It’s very important to make colleagues aware of what is available to them especially when discussing their performance management.
Staying ahead of the game
As a curriculum subject leader it is vital to be ahead of the changes. I’ve always volunteered to be involved with Agreed Syllabus writing groups and school working parties that have examined new initiatives to be implemented across the curriculum. I could then disseminate this information and new strategies to department colleagues so we, as a team, could look at the implications for the department and the students. This was particularly helpful when re-writing schemes of work following the implementation of a new Agreed Syllabus. Volunteering to be a Regional Subject Advisor for the New Secondary Curriculum has proved to be invaluable for me. Not only does this encourage links with other RE teachers in the South West but it has also provided the opportunity to forge links with schools nationally. Developing community cohesion is an area of focus for the new Ofsted inspections so it’s very important that RE departments can encourage links with faith communities that may otherwise not happen. For example, creating a video link with a school in Leicester which has a 70% Muslim student population can be very successful.
When considering development plans for the department I always consider three key questions:
- Where are we now?
- Where do we want to be?
- How are we going to get there?
These then form a framework for the department improvement plan. It’s only possible to move forward if one can critically view what’s happened before. For example:
It’s important that a curriculum subject leader can change direction if necessary. Sometimes syllabus changes do not suit your cohort of students or there may be discrepancies with GCSE/A level marking or the department realise that specific assessment tasks do not really allow students to progress through the levels. If this happens then decisions should be made with what is best for the students at the centre. The extra work load for re-writing schemes of work or assessments should not be an issue. New challenges for both teachers and students are essential if we are all to strive and achieve our best.
There are numerous resources available to teachers nowadays, sometimes too many to use effectively. With the new focus on personalised learning within the New Secondary Curriculum there should be less need for class sets of core text books. If we are to encourage students to become self-managers and independent enquirers then they need access to a range of resources within a lesson, including the internet when possible. There are some very useful resources for GCSE and A level:
Religion and Morality (AQA B) Hodder Education
Religion and Life Issues (AQA B) Hodder Education
Moral Issues in 6 Religions Heinemann
Contemporary Moral Issues Heinemann
Christian Perspectives Hodder & Stoughton
Christianity Hodder & Stoughton
Judaism with Jewish Moral Issues Nelson Thornes
Buddhism: new approach Hodder & Stoughton
These are only a minority of books used within the department. It’s also important to ask the librarian to order up-to-date books relating to your GCSE syllabus. I make sure this happens on a regular basis and, apparently, I’m one of the few curriculum subject leaders who take advantage of this!
AS/A Level (Religious Studies and/or Philosophy)
Subscribe to the Dialogue and Philosophy magazines
Ethical Theory CD Socratic Ideas Limited
Medical Ethics CD Socratic Ideas Limited
A Very Short Introduction series:
- Buddhist Ethics
- Medical Ethics
- Continental Philosophy
- Free Will
- The Mind
Buddhism D Cush Hodder & Stoughton
Buddhist Scriptures Penguin Classics
What the Buddha Taught
Being Human P Vardy
What is Truth? P Vardy
Puzzle of Ethics P Vardy
Puzzle of Evil P Vardy
Puzzle of God P Vardy
To name but a few! I also ask the librarian to build up the books on offer in the sixth form section for our subject.