Over the past weekend, the virtual world was abuzz with the energy and enthusiasm of hundreds of RE teachers and leaders from across the UK as they came together for the Strictly RE conference. This unique event, which moved online a few years ago due to the pandemic, was a chance for educators to connect, share ideas, and be inspired by the latest developments in the world of RE.
As an RE teacher and leader myself, I was thrilled to be a part of this virtual gathering. From the opening keynote address to the closing session, the conference was packed with insightful talks, engaging workshops, and thought-provoking discussions. I’ve reflected on some of my key takeaways below:
RE Teachers are a creative community
Despite being held online, Strictly RE managed to create a strong sense of community among attendees. The chat rooms were constantly buzzing with conversation, and there was a real feeling of shared purpose and support.
The conference showcased the amazing work that is happening in RE classrooms across the country. From innovative lesson ideas to inspiring projects, there was so much to learn and be inspired by. The practical takeaways, with ways to create, innovate and adapt were simple and yet remarkable. With sessions being able to be viewed on-demand later next month for attendees, there is still lots to watch, a huge professional development value and I’ve already highlighted elements well worth sharing with my wider staff team.
Two of my highlights were the keynote speakers Lat Blaylock and Daisy Scalchi who reminded us why RE matters. Blaylock’s historical perspective grounded us in the subject’s evolution, while Scalchi’s bold question – “Is RE the most important subject on the curriculum?” – sparked some fascinating debate and questions. Overall it felt like there was a collective pledge to move beyond the mundane and embrace the boundless potential of creative RE.
Diversity was a key theme
We, as RE educators, stand at a crossroads. On one hand, the world outside screams with diversity: a chorus of voices, traditions, and experiences that defy neat categorisation. On the other, our curriculum often leans towards “us” and “them,” neatly packaged religious boxes that rarely reflect the messy reality.
Strictly RE implored us to step away from that stance. Lat Blaylock’s opening keynote set the tone, reminding us that RE isn’t just about teaching facts about different faiths. It’s about equipping students with the critical thinking skills to navigate the “big questions” that swirl around them – questions about identity, morality, and our place in the universe. This resonated deeply. As Blaylock argued, if RE wants to stay relevant, it needs to move beyond information delivery and embrace the messy, open-ended conversations that arise from exploring diverse worldviews.
But how? The workshops offered a treasure trove of possibilities. From “Hermeneutics Simple Enough for 5-7s” to “Adaptive learning strategies in Primary RE,” we were presented with practical tools to break down these barriers and explore the nuances within.
What resonated most, however, was the emphasis on diversity “within.” We delved into the rich diversity of experiences within individual religions – challenging assumptions and celebrating the beauty of individual journeys. It was a reminder that the future of RE lies not in rigid definitions, but in open dialogue, critical thinking, and the courage to embrace the beautiful messiness of human belief.
Strictly RE 2024 reminded us that diversity isn’t a buzzword, but a beating heart. It challenged us to expand our curriculum, open our minds, and ultimately, build a subject for the future that truly lives up to its name.
Worldviews are here to stay
Over the past few years, we’ve seen a real shift in RE towards a worldviews approach. This shifts the focus from simply learning about religions to exploring different frameworks for understanding the world. It encourages students to:
- Examine their own beliefs alongside those of others, both religious and non-religious.
- Compare and contrast perspectives on big questions like life, death, and meaning.
- Develop critical thinking skills to analyze different worldviews.
- Engage in respectful dialogue to understand diverse viewpoints.
- It’s about equipping students with the tools to make their own informed choices about how to navigate the world.
Of course, the transition to a worldviews approach isn’t without its challenges. Concerns about neutrality, workload for teachers and leaders, and navigating sensitive topics were all addressed openly and honestly. My main takeaway from the panel led by Professor Trevor Cooling was a sense of shared responsibility, and a collective commitment to finding solutions and supporting each other in this journey.
This shift towards a worldviews approach is exciting, challenging, and necessary. And together, as a community of passionate RE educators, we can build a subject that equips our students to navigate the complex world they inherit, fostering understanding, empathy, and critical thinking.
StrictlyRE is still relevant and important
Strictly RE was more than just a conference; it was a reminder of the vital role that RE plays in education. It is a subject that helps young people to explore big questions about life, faith, and meaning. It is a subject that can challenge and inspire, and it is a subject that can make a real difference in the lives of young people.
So, if you’re an RE teacher or leader, and you’re looking for a shot of inspiration, a chance to connect with your tribe, and a platform to ignite your passion – I urge you to make Strictly RE a non-negotiable experience next year. Strictly RE 2024 didn’t just refresh my pedagogical toolkit; it reignited my passion for RE. It’s more than just a conference; it’s a celebration and a reminder that we, the RE educators, are not alone in our quest to light the spark of wonder in young minds.
Finally, a heartfelt thank you to everyone who made Strictly RE 2024 such a phenomenal experience. Here’s to building a future where RE thrives, and where every student feels empowered to explore the worldviews that shape our shared humanity.