Sunday, 21 October 2012


I haven't posted any RE blogs onto here for a very long time, so I quickly wanted to write an update.

When I do write about RE now, it is usually here: - I'll post links to posts I write on that website here whenever I do them. 

I'm currently in year 13, having just sent my UCAS application off. A lot of people have been enquiring as to whether I still want to be an RE teacher - the answer is definitely yes!

I'm hoping to start studying for my degree in September of 2013, followed by a PGCE in Religious Education. I was able to have a successful year with my AS Levels, so hopefully won't have a lot of trouble getting onto my desired course - fingers crossed!

Meanwhile, if there are any ideas or anything that you think would be good to have a student's perspective on, I'd be more than happy to read and consider them in the comments section, or sent directly to my RE-mail address: 

I'm unable to really think of any ideas at present!

Hope everyone's academic year started out well!

Students Can Teach Themselves

At the beginning of this academic year, I wrote an article on RE Online about how students can effectively teach themselves. To view the article, please click the link below:

The Importance of Philosophy and Ethics in the Modern World

At the end of the last academic year, I wrote a blog post on RE Online about why Philosophy and Ethics is important in the modern world. Here is the link to the article:

I'll Be Studying RE in this academic year. Will you?

At the beginning of the last academic year, I wrote a post over on RE Online. Here is the link to the post about why I choose to study RE:

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Importance of RE In Britain

On 11th May 2011, I attended the NASACRE AGM, and made a speech to those there about the importance of RE in Britain today. It's been a long time coming, but I'd now like to share this speech with you who couldn't be there. I'm litetrally copying the speech word for word, so I apologise for the references to those at the meeting!

Good afternoon everybody.

I hope you’ve all had a fantastic day at this NASCRE conference. Before I explain to you why I’m here with you today, I’d like to share with you a quick video about what RE is in today’s classroom:

Now I've had an opportunity to share that with you, I’ll move onto why I’m here today. I’m going to share with you my philosophy on Religious Education, and why it is important to society in Britain, and also across the world.

You see, I think there are a lot of common misconceptions where RE is concerned. There are some people in society – and unfortunately, in Government – who don’t seem to think RE is important enough to be recommended at GCSE. I can’t help but wonder, therefore, what they think RE really is. The mind immediately jumps to a conclusion that they think RE is a lesson where you’re indoctrinated, and will read a holy book – word for word – and are told to believe it. So this is RE, is it? Well, no, actually, it’s not. We have to ensure everyone understands what RE is. In some schools, if you study RE at A Level, it’s called Philosophy and Ethics. This name is appropriate, as you learn about – and draw your own conclusions on – philosophical and ethical issues that face members of society today. So what have I, a 16 year old who’s going to be taking a GCSE RE exam in 6 day’s time, learned about in RE? If you’d be so kind as to listen, I’d love to let you know.

In year 7, I learned about the different philosophies of life; scientific explanations for the existence of the universe; and different beliefs about the six main world religions amongst other topics. In year 8, ideas of Karl Rahner’s “anonymous Christian”; why do people believe in God?; how do I know what is right or wrong?; am I responsible for others? And several other units of work. When I started my GCSE RE course, I learned about so many issues facing humanity: abortion; euthanasia; IVF; is there life after death?; situation ethics; why should I vote?; is there such a thing as a just war? And plenty of other moral and philosophical dilemmas that face the world today. When my RE teacher explained to me why he believes RE to be important, he said one of its benefits is that students “can develop their personality and grow into a fully rounded human being.” So, I suppose these topics aren’t important for the children in our society learn about? Well, actually, yes, they are. 

I’d like to give a direct example of RE’s importance in society. There have been thriving debates over the past couple of years as to whether euthanasia should be legalised in the UK. Out of all of my GCSE courses – including 2 GCSEs in Science - RE has been the only one in which I’ve learned about euthanasia. In RE, we studied religious and non-religious arguments for and against the legislation of euthanasia, the lengths to which some people will go to allow a loved one to have euthanasia and, after careful thought, decided whether or not we personally believed euthanasia should be legalised in Britain. However, if we hadn’t done this in RE, I’m sure that several members of my class wouldn’t ever have made an informed decision regarding their own views on euthanasia. This is what RE offers: free thought. Yes, you do have a specification in GCSE RE, but just look what that specification offers. My own GCSE course has 50% of the paper assessed on questions asking you about your own opinions. If students today aren’t studying these pressing moral issues in RE lessons, when are they going to study them? Don’t get me wrong, of course, you’ll learn about certain issues in other subjects – for example, GCSE students learn about the controversy of Genetic Engineering in Biology as well as RE, but Biology won’t offer the time to reflect upon a student’s own opinion regarding a controversial issue – RE will. Do we want a generation of children who haven’t thought about such pressing issues? As one of the students who has thought about them, I advise you, the answer to that is a resounding no.

Another example I’d like to give is that of Islam. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. With this, unfortunately, comes rising levels of prejudices of the Muslim religion. How, without RE, will young people really learn what Islam is? Chances are, unless they’re from a Muslim background, they’ll learn about Islam through society’s pre-conceptions. Now, these pre-conceptions aren’t always going to be the reality of what Islam actually is. For example, someone may look at extremist actions – such as the 7/7 bombings – and decide that must be what Islam is all about. When in fact, Islam is about peace and submission to God.

According to Michael Gove – Secretary of State for Education – there’s “too much religion in society”. I’ve said before now that surely if there’s so much religion in society that Gove thinks it’s too much, we need good RE to accompany it. In Gove’s constituency of Surrey Heath, the percentage of ethic minority groups is 6.9%, compared with Birmingham’s 33.3%. We can begin to see why Gove doesn’t think RE is necessary. As there’s so little diversity in Surrey Heath, it seems Gove may not see the need to learn about it through RE. However, his constituency is not representative of the UK as a whole. In Birmingham, where today’s conference is taking place, we can see that there is diversity, and we learn about and celebrate this diversity in Religious Education.

Community cohesion is a vital thing that's necessary to achieve in the UK's multi-cultural societies, in places like Birmingham, for example. In areas where there's no sense of cohesion, there could be high levels of support for extreme right-wing parties, like the BNP. I personally don’t want the UK to go on to develop in this way, and I don’t think any of you would, either. RE teaches students to really think about what a person's beliefs mean to them, and how it's their identity. Differences aren't something to be afraid of, but something to be celebrated. What subject celebrates this? What subject will bring this cohesion to a diverse society like the UK? The answer is none other than RE.

Although I constantly campaign for people to realise that RE isn't a dictatorship where you're told to believe the words of a holy book, RE does actually hold significance in the religious-self of a human being. Whether we like it or not, religion is here to stay. It's something that everyone is going to think about in their lives. Why ignore the faith that exists in society? Even atheism itself is a faith, because there’s no solid evidence to prove that there is no God.  RE provides a safe place to develop your ideas, whether you're a modern day Oscar Romero or an advocate of Dawkins, you still have a set of moral beliefs, that you've developed from all of the different experiences you've had, the things you've read, heard and been told; RE brings a binding for all of these different sources, and enables a human to practically apply these morals to ethical dilemmas, such as is there ever such a circumstance in which war could be just, or is it right that we're worrying how we're going to pay for our holiday when there are children a plane journey away who are dying from starvation.  

In some words, I'd like to explain what I think RE is. RE is a subject whereby students can, yes, develop faith and beliefs, however, also have the time to think about reasons why maybe their religious views aren’t right, and other people's ideas are. It's a time to think about the moral and ethical issues that come about in our society today. It's a time to decide what we think is right or wrong. It's an opportunity to change the world we're living in; to make the world a much better and more tolerant place to be. Yes, this is all coming from a future RE teacher, but I'm not the only one with these opinions.

At this point, I’d like to read you an extract from a blog post I wrote in March. Those of you who attended the NASACREs Celebrating RE event in Birmingham on 31st March would have heard this already, so I do hope you don’t mind hearing it again:
“Never in my 11 and a half years of schooling have I found a subject so captivating; so wide in its content to interest and motivate myself. As long as humans have existed, so has the desire to know and understand the meaning and purpose of life. RE provides the variety of opinions on issues like the meaning of life and God's existence so as we can make informed choices on the thing that most motivates people in their lives. If RE were a poem, it would be Shakespeare's finest works; a painting, the broadest and most mysterious horizon; a personality, the deepest most meaningful being.”

Now, those are just my own opinions, but they’re ones I’m sure a lot of you here today will share.
I’d like to thank you for listening to me today. A final thought I'd like to leave you with: don't ever lose heart in the most important subject for the understanding of society; the subject we call 'RE'. 

Friday, 17 June 2011

25 Things I Wouldn't Know Without RE

From reading this list, it may be shocking to some people what I wouldn't know if it weren't for learning about them in RE. However, that's the point. People don't realise just how important RE is.

Before you read these reasons, I suppose you should know the GCSEs I do. With the things I wouldn't know without RE, I suppose Gove would guess I only take 'soft' subjects; he'd be wrong. I take the following subjects at GCSE: English Language (A*), Mathematics (C), Core Science (B), Additional Science, ICT (A*), Further ICT (A*), English Literature, Religious Studies, History, Geography and Media. (Grades included for those subjects I have already gained qualifications in - just to give an indication as to where I am academically).

From my subjects, the 'soft' subjects are Media, and, outrageously, Religious Studies. It's not as though I haven't finished the courses, either, as 2 days ago (15/06/11), I sat my last GCSE exams, and now I'm done - that's it. My GCSE education - other than RE - had not contained the following things. It's safe to say that, without RE (in particular, GCSE RE), I wouldn't know about any of the following:

1) the names of the six main world religions, and their key beliefs
2) the voting system in the UK (Gove, that one's for you)
3) why some people don't believe in God
4) what is euthanasia, and its arguments for and against
5) that some people believe suffering has a purpose
6) how can we conserve the environment? (Not even Geography or Biology taught me that one...)
7) examples of human rights and why they're important
8) that there are different views on when life begins
9) UK laws on abortion
10) animal rights
11) that many religious people accept scientific explanations for the existence of the universe (again, probably for Gove, but also for Dawkins)
12) the aims of punishment
13) the controversy of capital punishment (and the laws regarding its use world-wide)
14) the just war theory
15) the idea of situation ethics (how lots of people choose to live their lives)
16) the existence or work of Amnesty International
17) theodicy
18) UK laws on drugs, alcohol and tobacco
19) who Martin Luther King Junior was, and what he did (we didn't even study that in History - yet it's vital to learn about the work of this man)
20) utilitarianism as a practical theory for life
21) what have the Government done to work towards community cohesion in the UK?
22) UK law on divorce
23) the causes of world poverty
24) how can the appearance of the world lead some people to theism?
25) why do wars occur?

RE is a huge part of who I am as a person. Without it, seeing as I wouldn't know these things, would I not be a completely different person? I can't help but think that would be the case. Don't let Gove exclude RE from the EBacc - write to your MP to sign EDM 1375 today. We need RE.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

The Time I Wrote to Michael Gove

Dear Mr Gove, 

I am a year 11 pupil who attends Bishop Challoner Catholic College and I live in the Selly Oak constituency. A recent issue regarding the status of Religious Education has been brought to my attention.  I am writing to you with reference to the inclusion (or rather, non-inclusion) of Religious Education in the English Baccalaureate Humanities subject list. Upon finding out that RE is not included in this official list of Humanities subjects, I was not only personally disappointed, but also shocked. As someone who aspires to be an RE teacher myself, I know only too well about negative attitudes towards RE not only from students, but also parents; I cannot help but presume that attitudes towards RE are going to become not only increasingly negative, however also relaxed in that it could get as bad as ‘Well, RE doesn’t matter.’ or, “RE isn’t a real subject, anyway.” Such comments, Mr Gove, are already being uttered by (yes, again) RE students (and the parents of them) across the country. When I decided I wanted to pursue a career as an RE teacher, I also made the choice to commit myself to changing attitudes to RE not only among my own pupils, but on a national scale – this is something I have already begun trying to do by having a large number of interactive and well received resources for RE online. So, why is RE worthy of being included in humanities subjects? If you would be so kind as to listen to my views, I’m sure you shall see.

Firstly, although there is a common misconception that RE is about learning mere stories from holy books of the six main world religions, this couldn’t actually be any different; my own RE course at Bishop Challoner Catholic College includes ethical and philosophical issues and dilemmas facing society today – abortion, euthanasia, life after death, attitudes towards homosexuality, fornication, promiscuity, conflicts in multi-faith and multi-ethnic societies, how best to decide what moral decisions to make, how the six main world religions influence how we live in society, why conflict occurs, just war, capital punishment, crime and its impact on society, and also very many more. So, as you can see, RE isn’t at all like its, I shall call ‘stereotype’, suggests. 

Secondly, not only a personal belief, but a belief of a lot of Religious Education teachers, is that by ensuring there is a good quality of Religious Education is taught in schools, religious conflicts or stereotypes are not only to be confronted, but also (if not stopped) dramatically decreased. If there is a lack of good quality Religious Education in Britain’s schools, how, I ask, is there going to be religious tolerance in its multi-cultural society? Well, my view is, there’s not. Without Religious Education, students aren’t being educated about world religions from an unbiased perspective, therefore are less likely to respect people of different faiths (or if atheists, people of faith); students won’t know why people believe what they do, they won’t understand why they participate in the acts of worship they do or how to best respect their beliefs and values. This, Mr Gove, is something I can only see as bad for Britain’s multi-faith society. As a student who is eager to participate in both religious and political debate, I would be saddened to think that, by lack of descent Religious Education in schools, there would be significantly less interest in religious beliefs and ideas, and thus less religious debate among young people. If students aren’t debating or thinking about these issues, how are they to know what they actually, personally, believe? We’d be educating students who don’t know how to make moral decisions for themselves. Is this not an essential part of growing up, Mr Gove?

Moreover, not only will the general lessened interest come about where RE is concerned, however RE won’t be considered important as far as results are concerned. If a student should fail their GCSE in Religious Education, it won’t matter; it’s only RE. Head teachers will become disinterested with the results generated by the RE department in their school, as it won’t count as a humanities subject, and won’t form a sector of its own, either. Soon enough, RE won’t be seen as worthy of funding, leading to no RE being taught in many of Britain’s schools. Do you not think RE is worthy of funding, Mr Gove? As a politician, you must only know so very well that community cohesion is a goal that, to some extent, could be called ‘struggling’ in the UK. If RE should make an exit from schools, I believe you’ll find that community cohesion is far a less likely goal to be achieved. 

Furthermore, why is it that RE is not being considered a humanities subject? As I mentioned in a previous paragraph, in RE you learn about seemingly an infinite amount of issues affecting society (and so, humanity) today. Surely by definition a humanities subject is one in which you learn about issues facing humanity, what humanity has done in the past, is doing in present, and will progress to do in the future. This is something that – undeniably – is done in Religious Education. Religion and the influence is brings about is not only something from the past, however something we have in the present and is certain to progress and follow on into in the future. Therefore, Mr Gove, I challenge you to provide me with a reason we shouldn’t include Religious Education in the English Baccalaureate Humanities subject list; I can’t help but think it’s a difficult task to do so. 

Something more I’d like to bring to your attention is the feedback I receive from RE teachers who are out there trying to encourage students to participate in Religious Education. From this feedback, I can assuredly gather that it’s not only a trying task trying to show students that RE is worth learning about, but also an unpleasant one. If RE isn’t in the humanities list, I believe it will become only even more difficult to persuade head teachers, other subject teachers, students and parents that RE is worthy of school children’s time.

Finally, Mr Gove,  I would like to thank you for your time in reading this letter. I do hope you will take the time to consider my views that I have put forward and also that this letter will go some way to helping the status of RE change amongst politicians of Britain today.


Clare Dempsey
Year 11 RE student,
Bishop Challoner Catholic College

I wrote this to Gove in December 2010, and also sent it to Nick Gibb and my MP. In March, it was also sent to many of my friend's and teacher's MPs, many of whom went on to sign EDM 1375. Just a shame Gove will never read it.