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A Summary of Ofsted's RE Research Review for Leaders and Teachers (Religious Education)

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The RE Curriculum

  • 🕐 Most locally agreed syllabi recommend spending the equivalent of 60 minutes a week on RE in KS1 and 75 minutes per week in KS2. Insufficient time is considered to be 45 minutes or fewer a week.

  • 5️⃣ In secondary, most syllabi recommend that 5% or above of total curriculum be dedicated to RE.

  • 👩🏾‍🎓 RE provision can be understood as relating to two aspects of the Education Inspection Framework (EIF): quality of education and personal development. The research report applies primarily to the quality of education.

An Ambitious Curriculum for All

  • 🧠 RE curricula should be designed to give all learners - especially the most disadvantaged and those with SEND - the knowledge they need to succeed in life. RE makes a significant contribution to the overall knowledge pupils will need in life.

  • 🏗 Highly specific curriculum planning which considers the precise detail of the building blocks pupils will need to access the curriculum is likely to lead all learners to achieve this goal.


  • ➡️ The curriculum is the progression model - this means it should set out what it means to ‘get better’ at RE as pupils journey through the curriculum.

  • 3️⃣ There are three forms of knowledge that leaders and teachers need to consider: these are the three pillars of progression (and detailed in the next section).

  • 🧠 Getting better at RE means to ‘know more, and remember more’.

  • 👁 Leaders and teachers need to be aware of the different types of knowledge in RE, otherwise pupils may consequently develop misconceptions about religions and the differences between types of knowledge in RE and in other subjects.

Pillars of Progression

  • 3️⃣ There are three types of knowledge:

    • Substantive knowledge: knowledge about religious and non-religious traditions

    • Ways of knowing: knowledge of ‘how to know’ about religion and non-religion.

    • Personal knowledge: a growing knowledge of how pupils’ own ideas and values relate with those which they learn about in a religious and non-religious context.

  • 🖇 These types of knowledge should not be artificially separated from each other.

Substantive Knowledge

  • This includes:

    • 🙏🏿 The different ways that people express religion and non-religion in their lives

    • 📿 Knowledge about the artefacts and texts which are associated with different religious and non-religious traditions

    • 🕋 Concepts - such as ‘incarnation’, ‘prayer’ and ‘moksha’ - which relate to religious and non-religious traditions.

  • Subject-specific concepts can be categorised in the following ways:

    • 🙇🏽‍♀️ concepts which are common to religious and non-religious experience e.g. interpretation

    • 🛐 concept that are common to multiple forms of religious experience e.g. sacrifice

    • ✝️ concepts that are specific to a religious tradition e.g. the Christian notion of ‘incarnation’.

  • 🏗 It would be impossible to try to teach everything and so curriculum leaders and designers need to select content for pupils to learn. This means all curriculum content is a representation or reconstruction of religious and non-religious traditions, worldview and concepts.

  • 🏹 It is important that leaders and teachers choose the most accurate representations possible, as school RE plays a significant role in building pupils’ knowledge and conceptual models about religion and non-religion.

  • 🧠 What pupils learn needs to resemble the complexity of religion and of religion in society. They should have a ‘mental model’ which reflects the global and historical complexity of religion and non-religion.

What is ‘enough’ representation?

  • ⛓ A RE curriculum needs to contain ‘collectively enough’ content for pupils to achieve the ambitious end goals set for them. Leaders should consider what the overall conception of religion and non-religion is intended for pupils and use this as a guide to select the content to be taught. This can be more useful than using a ‘quantity’ or ‘weighting’ approach of traditions to be included in a curriculum.

  • ⚖️ A quantity approach, such as requiring a percentage of a curriculum to be dedicated to one religion, can generate problems: it can cause tensions due to the differences in time dedicated to individual religions, and can prevent pupils from exploring the connections between traditions. Too much content can overload learners and lead to superficial understanding.

  • 🥽 Leaders should take into account the ‘conceptual impression’ of religion and non-religion that intend for pupils to develop. They can then ensure that the planned representations express the diversity and variety of religion.

  • 👣 The conceptual impression of religion is complex, and the content of a curriculum should be sequenced so that pupils can make sense of its complexity.

  • 🎈Leaders should think about the long-term learning of curriculum journeys and how representations along the way might enable to pupils to grasp the big ideas of religious and non-religious traditions. An example of a big idea is how religions and non-religions are concerned with the pursuit of a good life.

  • 🎣 The big ideas of religions and non-religions might be useful for some level of curriculum planning as ‘conceptual pegs’ or hooks.

  • 🌿 It can be necessary to plan for a sufficient range of representations to illustrate complexity e.g. selecting representations of Hindu and Buddhist traditions to show how they share similar concepts such as ‘karma’ and ‘dharma’.

  • 🏋🏼‍♀️ The curriculum should not include excessive knowledge; instead, the cumulative sufficiency is what is most important.

Accurate Representations

  • 👌🏻 It is so important for leaders to plan precise and accurate representations of religious and non-religious traditions. Inaccurate representations can lead to misconceptions.

  • 👍 The accuracy of representations is particularly important for non-confessional RE.

  • 👩🏼‍🏫 Representations should allow teachers to teach accurately without promoting a particular tradition or having to ignore less pleasant representations of traditions. This means that leaders may have to plan representations that include morally displeasing aspects of a tradition: not doing so can lead to pupils developing inaccurate stereotypes.

  • ☝️The teaching of generalisations can be problematic as they can fail to demonstrate how the authenticity of traditions can be lost. Moreover, leaders must ensure that representations do not include inaccurate portrayals and instead teach pupils what traditions used to be, rather than portray how they are now.

  • ✝️ However, generalisations can sometimes be necessary, particularly in primary. Generalisations of traditions might allow for common features of traditions to be taught and provide the vehicle for vocabulary and concepts to be introduced. The use of language here is important, with modifiers such as ‘many’, ‘most’ and ‘some’ being important teaching points in ensuring an accurate and precise curriculum.

  • 🚌 Considering the curriculum as a journey means that leaders can plan for pupils to move on from early generalisations, and can add nuance into the teaching sequences.

  • 🧕🏻 It could be useful for leaders to plan for pupils to learn about institutional traditions alongside finding out about the lived traditions from hearing from real people.

  • ❓ Rich and precise enquiry questions which emphasise ‘social actors’ and their use of traditions are better for promoting the use of accurate representations. Imprecise questioning can lead to weak generalisations and unsustainable stereotypes.

Depth vs Breadth

  • ⏬ Although it is important that a curriculum portrays the diversity of religion and non-religion, this breadth of knowledge is insufficient for high-quality RE. Depth should be a key consideration.

  • 🔽 Depth of knowledge allows pupils to develop rich conceptual understanding as well as appreciate and make sense of the ‘bigger picture of a multi-religious and multi-secular world.

  • 🙍🏼‍♀️ Abstract ideas, such as ‘forgiveness’, require pupils to have built knowledge on a range of examples.

  • 🏗 Teaching for depth provides pupils with many crucial components such as vocabulary, concepts, pertinent facts, examples, illustrations and disciplinary procedures.

  • 📚 Pupils can acquire this depth of knowledge by acquiring knowledge from forms of content such as narratives, rituals, artefacts, codified beliefs, arguments, thought experiments and case studies. Whilst the in-depth content will not be separated out, these forms will allow pupils to consider more complex ideas from a more knowledgeable position.

  • 🌎 It is often the case that in-depth studies reflect traditions in the local area, which might be indicated by locally agreed syllabi. It is, however, important for leaders plan for depth in contrasting religions and non-religious, otherwise pupils’ schema of ‘religion’ could be skewed. For example, if depth studies only attend to Abrahamic traditions end never to dharmic traditions, this affects how pupils will conceptualise religion itself.

  • ⛪️ Focusing on generic themes in RE can be problematic: they can lead to superficial learning and sometimes to misconceptions. Detailed study allows pupils to learn a sufficient amount of content whilst avoiding these risks.

  • 🪐 It is also important that the curriculum does not overly ‘silo’ knowledge by only ever teaching religions discretely rather than planning opportunities for pupils to understand the connections and overlap that exists.

  • 👨‍👩‍👧‍👧 In-depth study allows pupils to see patterns, relationships and discrepancies - these are the hallmarks of more sophisticated and proficient thinking.

Sequencing the Curriculum

  • 👣 High-quality curricula are coherently planned and well-sequenced.

  • 📈 The curriculum needs to prepare pupils for what they are going to study and should build on what they have already learned.

  • 🧠 The curriculum should be structured so that pupils can integrate new content into their existing schema. This allows them to make meaningful connections.

  • 🔗 Leaders should identify the links they want the pupils to make between substantive content - even those areas which are very different. It is important that pupils learn about these connections.

  • 🥅 An important aspect of curriculum sequencing is how the content moves pupils forward to achieving the ambitious end goals of a curriculum. This will ultimately require both rich content knowledge as well as a strong knowledge of the connections between these components of knowledge.

  • 🎄It is not always necessary to organise content so that more complex ideas are reserved for the later years; however, it is likely that planning to encounter similar concepts over time will allow pupils to build an increasingly detailed understanding of these concepts.

  • ⚠️ Sequencing is important when introducing sensitive and controversial issues. The order in which pupils encounter representations of a religion affects their conception of that religion. Pupils require many components of knowledge before they are able to study controversial topics.

  • ⚰️ These components might come from other subjects, such as when pupils learn about ‘death’ in primary school. They will have encountered the life stages of organisms as early as the EYFS, but their understanding of death as a natural process and part of life needs to be secured before exploring the religious aspects of this concept.

  • 🌕 Controversial issues should not form the only basis for pupils’ learning about a religion.

Ways of Knowing

  • 👨🏻‍🏫 This includes knowledge of the well-established methods and processes of learning - the scholarship of RE - and the types of conversation that academic communities have about religion and non-religion.

  • 🧠 This is the disciplinary knowledge of RE. Pupils should understand that different ways of knowing can lead to different aspects of religion being revealed, which can reduce over-simplification or stereotyping.

  • 🤏🏾 It is important for pupils to learn:

    • how the substantive knowledge they are learning came about

    • the accuracy and validity of the claims being made

    • the differences between conceptions and misconceptions

    • the types of methods that may have been used to obtain the knowledge and how suitable the methods were e.g. limitations of an interview

  • 📖 The curriculum should be explicit about teaching ‘ways of knowing’. Pupils should be aware of how different ways of knowing affect what can be learned and concluded.

  • 🛠 Pupils should learn to choose the right tool of knowing for the job - they should understand which methods are the most useful for the knowledge they are seeking.

  • 🌏 It is important for pupils to gain an understanding about the types of knowledge in the world, and how the knowledge in the RE curriculum differs from ‘everyday’ knowledge.

  • 👨🏻‍🎓 Pupils can learn about academic discussions and how to learn from them, as well as how to participate in them.

  • 🤔 It might be useful to separate ways of knowing into simplified disciplines such as theology, philosophy and human or social sciences. This can be done in a simplified way in primary schools. The wording of enquiry questions can reflect these different ways of knowing.

  • ⁉️ When leaders plan the curriculum, it would be useful to plan to teach ways of knowing as specific to the content the pupils are learning.

Personal Knowledge in RE

  • 👱🏼‍♀️ Pupils learn all content from their personal position - which has been shaped by their individual experiences, values and sense of identity. They should know that this personal knowledge means they bring assumptions to learning about religious and non-religious traditions.

  • 🧠 Leaders should consider the substantive content of the curriculum in terms of how useful it is for pupils to develop their personal knowledge. Some content has richer potential than others for this.

  • 🌏 The ideal situation is where pupils build personal knowledge through learning about rich substantive content which links the ‘life worlds’ of the religious and non-religious traditions and that of the pupils.

  • 👩🏻‍⚖️ Some content is likely to be more suitable for developing this knowledge. For example, content relating to meaning and purpose, human nature, justice in society, values, community and self-fulfilment.

  • 💒 Some content is less useful for developing personal knowledge, such as more static features of religious traditions such as features of religious features.

  • ⚠️ Sometimes, imprecise content selection can lead to the content becoming a PSHE lesson rather than developing the personal knowledge linked to substantive RE content. For example, learning and reflecting the meaning of a parable rather than developing the concept that the parable refers to and how this relates to the pupils’ personal knowledge.

Interplay, end goals and competencies

  • 🖇 It is important that leaders plan an integrated approach to the three pillars of progression. This involves teaching not only the content but the connections between the content.

  • 🥅 Leaders should plan with ambitious end-points in mind. This can shape the journey of the curriculum and can be used as a guide for which content needs to be included. Content should be precise and purposeful - and the purpose is linked to the end goal.

  • 🌍 It is suggested that RE education would be incomplete if it did not lead pupils to build towards an understanding of the global and the complex features of religion and non-religion. Pupils need to be prepared to engage in a multi-religious and multi-secular world.

  • 🎨 The substantive knowledge in RE is critical and this can be understood in terms of components and composites. The components include the language, vocabulary and concepts that pupils learn, whereas the composites build over time. A successful RE curriculum can lead pupils to developing broader interpersonal competencies, but focusing on these competencies over content is inadvisable.

  • 📚 It is important that leaders prioritise the quality of knowledge in RE. Otherwise, even well-meaning intentions can skew the pedagogy of RE and can blur it with citizenship and PSHE education.


  • 👩🏼‍🏫 Pedagogy can be understood as a model of teaching and learning, or as the specific classroom procedures, methods and strategies that connect with how pupils learn the content taught. The EIF uses the latter definition in evaluating the implementation of the curriculum.

  • 🖋 Successfully implementing the curriculum depends on selecting appropriate teaching methods and RE which link to the object of what is being taught.

  • 📝 Teaching methods are effective when they enable pupils to ‘know more and remember more’. Learning activities are suitable when they reinforce learning of the curriculum object.

  • 🏹 It is important for teachers to be clear about the ‘object’ of the curriculum that they want pupils to learn about. By being clear and precise with their expectations of what pupils will learn, leaders can enable teaching to link with the curriculum goals successfully.

  • 👨🏻‍🏫 Clarity over the curriculum object enables teachers to focus their subject expertise on classroom processes.

  • 🧠 Teaching activities should be well-matched to pupils’ prior knowledge. Pupils will integrate their new learning into their existing schema. If this their prior knowledge is insecure, new learning will be compromised. Teachers can adapt to these needs through pre-teaching and scaffolding as necessary.

  • 🔁 Pupils need to have periodic and recurrent opportunities to encounter concepts so that they develop their schema over time.

  • 🔄 Retention of crucial knowledge - such as particular concepts and vocabulary - is an important consideration. Retrieval practice, in its many shapes and forms, is an effective way of achieving this.

  • 🛠 It is important that the right tools for retrieval practice are chosen based on the type of knowledge being retrieved. Some methods are suitable in some contexts and inappropriate in others. Sometimes, activities themselves enable recall, such as when pupils draw on prior understanding to make comparisons.

  • 💥 Some knowledge is particularly useful to be learned to automaticity. Leaders need to consider how learning some knowledge can reduce the cognitive burden on learners and in turn support the achievement of vulnerable groups of pupils.


  • 📝 Assessment should be used sufficiently but not excessively.

  • ✅ Formative assessment allows for adaptive teaching and benefits the pupil in terms of the feedback they receive. AfL provides a very clear feedback loop for teachers.

  • 🏫 Summative assessment often ties to whole-school monitoring of pupil progress. When treating the curriculum as a progression model, summative assessment seeks to determine how much of the curriculum a pupil knows and can remember.

  • 📆 It is important that summative assessment take place at sufficiently long intervals so that there is enough time for the curriculum to be taught and learned.

  • 🥽 Leaders need to be clear about what and why they are assessing before they make decisions about the most appropriate assessment tools. It might be that composite tasks are used or more simple tasks when isolated portions of knowledge are being assessed.

  • 👨🏻‍🎓 The types of knowledge that might be more easily assessed are the substantive content and ways of knowing. Due to issues with the nature of personal knowledge, this is likely to sit outside of the realms of assessment.

  • 🔗 The expectations of assessments should be related to the curriculum - as the curriculum is the progression model. Curriculum and assessment should not be considered as separate entities.

  • ❓ Summative assessment asks the question: have pupils learned and remembered the RE curriculum?

  • ✅ Assessment models should avoid artificial notions of assessment such as vertical hierarchies and hierarchies of command words. Age-related expectations might not reflect the RE curriculum the pupils are learning.

School Systems, Culture and Priorities

  • 🏫 The way in which a school classifies RE matters. If RE is not treated as a discrete subject, issues can arise. For example, in primary, a topic-based approach can fail to include sufficient RE content.

  • ⏰ An important consideration for leaders is whether the time allocated for RE is sufficient to deliver a curriculum with an ambitious scope.

  • 👩🏼‍🏫 Who teaches RE is another consideration. There is variation across the sector in the qualification of the teacher. Regardless of who teaches RE, it is important to consider whether their subject-specific training and expertise is sufficient to deliver high-quality RE.

  • 🎓 Pupils should be taught by teachers who have secure subject and curriculum knowledge, who foster interest in the subject among pupils, and who are equipped to address pupils’ misunderstandings and misconceptions.

  • 🌓 In primary schools, it is likely that around half of teachers lack confidence in teaching RE.


  • ✅ It would be beneficial for teachers at both primary and secondary to develop in 4 key areas:

    • RE policy

    • RE content knowledge

    • RE pedagogical content knowledge

    • research in RE

  • 📖 RE Policy: teachers need to have clarity over the legal requirements of RE, the locally agreed syllabus, and perhaps some of the developments and changes in RE teaching over the past years.

  • 🕌 RE Content Knowledge: teachers need to have knowledge about RE which is relevant and sufficient to teach the school’s curriculum. Additionally, it is important for teachers to continue developing the depth and breadth of their knowledge and their ‘orientative’ knowledge about the status and perspective of what is being taught.

  • 👩🏾‍🎓 RE Pedagogical Content Knowledge: teachers benefit from knowledge of how to teach a particular subject or topic.

  • 📚Research in RE: teachers need to be supported to engage with educational theory and research findings.

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A Summary of Ofsted's RE Research Report
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