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  • Admin
    June 28, 2020
    Secret RE Teacher -

    An understanding of the differences and similarities between faiths helps develop empathy with those who are different. It also makes it much more difficult for extremists- who want to cause division and mistrust in our society, to get a foothold in the minds of our young people.

    Extremism can lead to terrorism. Whilst the vast majority of extremists will never progress to terrorism, it’s worth remembering that all terrorists are extremists. Terrorist organisations like ISIS try to recruit young people to their cause using the guise of religion. Whilst our threat level has been downgraded to Substantial (which still means an attack is likely) for the first time since 2011, we should be under no illusion that this twisted ideology still exists and is still being propagated. Unfortunately, we will feel the repercussions from this death cult for at least years, but more likely decades- just as Al Qaida still exist; still try to recruit; and certainly, still influence to this day.

    To me, it’s not surprising that the young people who flocked to join ISIS were largely religiously illiterate. If a child is brought up to see that all the Abrahamic faiths (for example) come from the same source and share beliefs and practices, then it’s much more difficult to conclude that anyone with differing views to yours can legitimately be considered an enemy, and especially one deserving of a violent death.

    However, it’s not the sole responsibility of the RE staff to help develop critical literacy. They can give expert advice on religious teachings and explain context and interpretations. But if we really want to tackle extremism, and prevent extremist views from becoming entrenched, then we need to work with all educators in a school setting. I’ll touch briefly on a couple of subjects below:

    History is a hugely beneficial subject. For example, we can look at how propaganda has been used historically and can draw parallels between what is happening today. The Nazis and the indoctrination of the Hitler youth demonstrated radicalisation on an industrial scale. We hold teaching WWII in such high regard to reinforce the idea that we must remember the lessons from History. Terrorist organizations like; ISIS, Al Qaida, National Action; as well as extremist organizations such as Britain First, the EDL, and Hizb ut Tahrir; all use the same sort of grievance narrative used by the Nazis to recruit impressionable young people. If we can learn from how extremists successfully indoctrinated and recruited in the past, we can build resilience in our young people to it now.


    • English is another subject that can help counter extremist ideology. When young people study persuasive writing and speeches, they can understand the techniques used to whip people into a fervour and thus abandon their critical faculties.
    • In English and the Arts studying texts or works from different cultural viewpoints can build empathy through identifying with characters or art. It can help students develop an understanding of the broad cultural influences in modern Britain.
    • In ICT we teach young people about techniques like phishing and echo-chambers. Again, this helps build their resilience and means they are less likely to be duped.
    • The Sciences teach us the importance of evidence. The need to check things and not blindly follow- let’s not fall into the disastrous trap of not ‘trusting the experts’.


    It would be remiss of me here, on a Citizenship website, to extol the virtue of Citizenship teaching.  We know why it’s important. If it’s given the space in the curriculum it needs and the gravitas it deserves, then just like RE it can be an invaluable tool in helping our students make sense of what can seem an increasingly confused, and polarised world.

    Almost every subject, and certainly every educator, has their part to play in this. It’s about building critical literacy and therefore resilience. Resilience not only regarding young people being drawn into supporting violent extremism, but those same skills also help increase the resilience of our children with regards to being groomed for gang membership, Child Sexual Exploitation, or any other form of exploitative harm.  

    RE is not the answer- it’s part of it. To ensure our children are safe and not susceptible to exploitation, we need to ensure that they can critically evaluate the information that they are exposed to and, crucially, that they know they can talk to trusted people- like teachers- to help them try to make sense of things they don’t yet understand.

    #RE #Citizenship #MediaLiteracy
  • Admin
    June 28, 2020
    Authored by "The Secret RE Teacher"

    RE is a subject that I have long been passionate about. This is principally because Religious Education can be utilised to develop critical literacy amongst students. As it is compulsory in schools, it means that, even if some SLT take it less seriously than others, it should still be in the formal curriculum and therefore almost all students in the country have this protected time to discuss complex philosophical and moral conundrums.


    Unfortunately, the real tangible value of RE in helping young people question and understand the beliefs and views of others is often not fully appreciated. I’ve had too many parents’ evenings trying to explain patiently to parents, who have been reluctantly dragged over to see me by their children because they are proud of how they are progressing, only to be told by mum or dad, “well it’s not that important- they’re not going to become a priest”. Or words to that effect.


    I can understand this sentiment, but it’s so far off the mark it’s a shame. Of course, some schools focus more on the religious ‘instruction’ side of things, rather than the critical examination of beliefs, and how they translate into the contemporary world. Religious instruction does still exist but it’s certainly not the norm, and even in religious schools there is a requirement to teach about other world faiths.

    These attitudes towards RE are not just prevalent amongst parents. Educators I have met from around the world are confused as to why RE is a compulsory subject here. They struggle to understand its relevance in the world today. But effective RE requires young people to give serious consideration to hugely varied viewpoints from the theological and philosophical, to the moral and practical.


    I no longer work as a teacher, but I work in safeguarding and I have particular interest in, and concern about, the prevalence of fake news, propaganda, and extremist views that are eschewed and seen by so many of our children. Does RE counter this? In my view – partly.

    An understanding of the differences and similarities between faiths helps develop empathy with those who are different. It also makes it much more difficult for extremists- who want to cause division and mistrust in our society, to get a foothold in the minds of our young people.
  • Admin
    June 28, 2020
    As I’m writing this I, like almost everyone else, am in self-isolation because of the Covid-19 crisis.


    This is by far the most significant historical event I have lived through. It’s stressful and harrowing, but unlike, say 9/11, most of us won’t remember where we were when we first heard of this. It built gradually but its effects are far more pervasive and will undoubtedly have a much bigger impact on the world than 9/11. And once again we see people struggle to come to terms with it. My concerns regarding the pandemic and young people are two-fold.

    My first concern is that, without educators regularly seeing their students, they are left with fewer highly-trained people with a broad range of expertise who can help them navigate what is true or false and, what has been made to try to exploit, rather than to educate.


    The second is that the scale of this has led to some educators adopting some dangerously naive views. I am aware of teachers who have spread the Covid-19 conspiracy theories on social media, and it greatly concerns me that some students might also be exposed to this nonsense from these ‘trusted’ individuals. These views are not harmless. Workers installing a vital new infrastructure have received death threats, they’ve been harassed on the streets whilst doing their job. The arson of 5G towers has directly and adversely affected the NHS in Birmingham. Some of the conspiracy theories are also being deliberately spread by the Far-Right and are overtly racist towards the Chinese, others are anti-semitic and blame the Coronavirus on a secret Jewish plot- sound familiar?

    Whilst most people probably laugh at these conspiracy theories, they cause me great concern. If we are telling students to question everything (which conspiracy theorists like to do in an attempt to make themselves appear like critical thinkers) but then refuse to accept any evidence that goes against their world view- we are the ones spreading propaganda and disinformation.


    Yes, we need to be critical of the government and media, but to dismiss everything they say because it doesn’t fit in with your world view is comparable to how extremists think. We must question, but to do that we must know how to question, and how to examine evidence. We must also have respect for the scientific vigour and processes that will eventually deliver us from this emergency.

    Everyone is entitled to their own views, but if those views are harmful to the development of our students then they CANNOT be expressed as the view of the educator- that alone can give them credibility to many young people.

    Some teachers might frown upon homosexuality due to their religion, but it would be damaging and unprofessional if they conveyed those views to young people and gave them credence. If a young person is sat in the room who is LGBT+, they might feel they are being attacked, or that they are of less worth than their "straight" heterosexual classmates.


    In the same way, if an educator wants to believe in conspiracy theories, then that’s up to them. But under no circumstances should they peddle dangerous views in their professional capacity. I taught RE for years without being religious, but I would have never said that religious beliefs were inferior to my atheism. Instead, I taught objectively. I explained what some people believed and why, and then asked the students to consider what they believed and why. To combat fake news, conspiracy theories, extremism, and, ultimately, terrorist ideology, it’s imperative that all educators work together to create students who can effectively assess the validity of information they are exposed to- an increasingly difficult task as we are no longer having that face-to-face contact.
  • Admin
    June 28, 2020
    … maybe you’ve heard of fertility charting? When women take note of their cycle to pinpoint when they're ovulating to achieve the greatest potential for conception. It’s quite common practice these days.

    I’m talking about the same thing but I am coming from the viewpoint of someone who doesn’t want to have a child yet but wants to know herself a little better.

    This chart is a circle and divided up into 30 sections as it’s a reflection of your menstrual/ovulation cycle (Some woman can have longer or shorter cycles, adjust as you see fit)

    The 30-day menstrual chart

    I’ve started by making my own chart (because I like to get my creative side flowing) which you can do too, or you can use my one (above). You can start adding a note, a few words or a sentence every day (starting day 1 of your first day of menstruation) and then, charting every day until your next menstruation which you can then repeat on a new cycle sheet.

    This chart is for you to make a comment on your mood, energy levels and,  sensations in your body. Keeping an eye on how you reacted to people, situations that day and, anything else you would like to note down that would help you navigate where you were at with your hormone levels.

    For me, I also write down my energy levels so I can start to understand at which points of the month I have more or less energy, then I can adjust my work and social calendar accordingly. It even helps me choose which exercises to undertake as I find I have more energy after my period is finished, leading up to ovulation and a few middle days between ovulation and menstruation.

    I am now starting to notice a pattern of days which I have less energy and that is normally down to a fluctuation in hormones (normally a drop) when my body is going through a different phase of my cycle. When these days come around I practice self-love, take it easy on my body and mind with a walk, yin yoga or some rest in bed with a book.

    I think its important to know myself better so I can either use my most productive times to full advantage or not give myself such a hard time when I’m tired and need rest.

    Rest is so important and we (this modern western society) have devalued it. I believe women need it more than we (and our culture) are giving ourselves. Just think how much our bodies do without us taking much notice. We develop and mature an egg, create a desirable space for it to grow and then release this potential for life every month (if it is not fertilised). How many animals or more specific mammals have the same monthly cycle of potential for life? How many mammals put this much effort into reproduction every month? Only a handful is the answer and its because it is costly on resources in regards to biology.

    So let's give ourselves a break and allow ourselves time to slow down when we feel we need to.
    It's time to start charting

    Taking note of how you conduct your life and the sensations in your body will help you understand you! Plus you will be able to express to your nearest and dearest where your head is at and, what you are going through on a day to day basis. It provides a pathway for clearer communication.

    Also, it helps you understand that all women are cyclic beings, we are all going through ebbs and flows of energy levels, hormonal ups and downs, experiencing emotions on all levels and that we all have our own unique pattern.

    It can make life that little bit easier if we track where we are emotionally, physically and, spiritually each day.

  • Admin
    June 28, 2020
    Let’s start with a given: Children and young people have a right to know how to keep themselves physically and emotionally safe, support each other and, be prepared for the challenges and changes that many of them will face as they likely to live into the 22nd century.  It seems extraordinary that this has not previously been mandatory, but recent governments have, rather slowly, responded to worrying statistics around mental health; sexual harassment; drug-resistant STIs; ‘othering’ and a growing recognition of the impact of adverse childhood experiences.


    As readers will know, from September 2020, Relationships and Health Education become statutory in primary schools (with an expectation to also teach sex education) and secondary schools will have to teach relationships and sex and health education.  In making R(S)HE statutory for all state-funded schools in England (in addition to a long-standing expectation that independent schools teach personal, social health and economic (PSHE) education) the DfE have proscribed long lists of things children should know.  Unsurprisingly, Wales and Scotland also have plans to make similar changes.

    The DfE has reiterated the importance of locating this within a framework of PSHE and recognise that knowledge alone is insufficient; the curriculum must develop skills and values that enable pupils to enjoy the opportunities, responsibilities, and experiences of their current and later lives.  
    So, now is the time for schools to be reviewing policy and parental engagement and be working out what, when and how are they going to teach; accessing public health data and more tacit knowledge about the needs of their children, to enable them to adapt provision to meet the needs of their communities and, how this data can generate social norms to influence perceptions and impact behaviour.  Schools should also be considering the relationships between a taught curriculum slot (of PSHE) and SMSC development and how the subject leader can work effectively with the designated lead for mental health.  Although schools may offer different curriculum models, secondary schools that rely exclusively on ‘off timetable’ events are unlikely to meet their statutory expectations or serve the entitlement of their students.

    As with any other subject, schools should develop an iterative curriculum, that builds on prior learning.  Just as naming genitalia should start in KS1 or earlier, learning about consent needs to start in the early years and be reiterated in age (and stage) appropriate ways, as children mature.  Primary schools should enable children to manage their emotions and relationships and learn about ‘taking turns’ and although they are unlikely to teach about STIs, they should teach ‘Catch it, Bin it, Kill it’ and hand washing, to underpin more detailed learning in KS3 & 4.

    Pedagogy and classroom practice should also be thoughtfully updated.  Within statutory learning about ‘families’, primary schools should consider teaching about attachment and basic neurology, as part of mental health and to help manage behavior.  Relationships education needs to include stages of intimacy that do not lead exclusively to heterosexual intimacy but also involve learning ‘soft skills’ that are essential to any customer-facing careers.

    Students passively watching a ‘condom demo’ is probably a waste of time, if it doesn’t include developing a culture where it is acceptable not to have any physical contact, but that any sexual involvement needs to be protected physically and emotionally.

    Statutory R(S)HE provides schools with opportunities to redress curriculum imbalance, enhance cultures of inclusivity, invest in CPD and promote staff wellbeing as well improving the learning and life chances for children and young people.  Anyone wanting help with this only has to ask …

    Blog Author Brief Bio and Links
    . John Rees is an independent Education Consultant for PSHE

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