What Teachers Think

The Birmingham Syllabus has been running since 2008. We visited a secondary school teacher, and an academic and primary headteacher designing the curriculum for a Sikh faith primary school, who all talk about how they use the syllabus.

Bethan Ruth, Frankley School:

13 "There’s a big change with the way pupils engage with RE at Frankley now; pupils are a lot more switched on to what it means to have a faith and what it means to put that faith into practice. Because historically it was just about learning facts. Now it's about what they get out of it and what the benefits are and if any of those benefits could be applied within their own lives. So it’s a lot more about learning from religion as a result of looking at how faith has an impact in a believer’s life. I very rarely get them asking why they are learning this. It’s more about ‘this is really interesting and I want to learn more’ and ‘this is my view on it, what motivates someone to come from that view on this.'

For those teachers who aren’t specialists in RE this website will allow teachers to access easily the resources that they need. It could have any number of things that allow you to teach the lesson in a similar way to a specialist colleague. On the site you can put into it the faith, dispositions, year group that you want to target it at. If it then comes up with the resources to allow you to teach it makes it a lot easier. The range of resources available on the site are all inclusive, and any resources that are used are catalogued in your user history.

Having a site like this is going to help me prepare my lessons because I can easily access everything I need via the dispositions, the religion, the year group, I can click on and download the resources and I can get on with teaching it. And as a result I’ve noticed that pupils are interested, they are engaged, they are enlivened in what they are learning about and how they are learning about it as a result of accessing their work through the many different resources. This site will undoubtedly save me a lot of time, because a lot of time goes into planning as it does for all teachers. However, if there is somewhere I can go and I can access that information and I can print that off that is going to save me lots and lots of work.

I think the schemes of work are a good place to start for anybody coming to this new. To understand the work behind the lesson, the schemes of work are broken down, and from there teachers can begin to think how they can show how different religions look at similar themes and what they say looking at a specific issue. Those colleagues who are in schools teaching RE can see how children in Birmingham are now being taught. And see if they could adopt the practices we have of engaging pupils so that they understand what faith means."  


Gopinder Kaur and Ranjit Singh Dhanda, Nishkam Primary School

85 Gopinder, middle, and Ranjit, right, at Nishkam Primary School

Ranjit: "The happiness and fulfilment of children and their families lies at the heart of our work at the Nishkam Education Trust. We’re located in Handsworth, an inner city area of Birmingham with lots of social challenges. The Nishkam ‘campus’ began with the Gurdwara, or Sikh place of worship, and now includes a community cooperative, a centre for local and global civic engagement, a nursery and new primary school. All the centres were built with tireless love and care and a huge volunteer effort. I like to think they’ve helped to bring some hope and optimism to a rundown part of the city, and can inspire similar projects in other contexts.

The golden thread which connects these centres is the practice of being ‘nishkam’, or selfless.  From this flow other values, which we can identify in our own Sikh heritage and see reflected in other traditions. So, we’re inspired by faith to make a difference to everyday life, and that means being self-reflective and engaging with others. I’ve always been passionate about education and bringing the best we can to children. It’s been wonderful to be involved in this very challenging and innovative work, particularly with the school developments."

Gopinder: "The revision of Birmingham’s Agreed Syllabus for RE was a chance for us as a grassroots organisation to play a role in shaping a shared educational agenda for the city. It was a long collaborative process, leading to the common framework of dispositions. For us it echoed an important legacy of the Sikh Gurus, who were active in interfaith engagement, respecting difference and drawing attention to shared values. So input into the new syllabus was much welcomed by Nishkam. It resonated with our efforts to look in fresh ways at our heritage, trying to draw on its core values to make a positive difference to the life we share in new and changing contexts. With the RE syllabus, it’s about making a difference to the experience of teaching and learning. It’s great to hear from teachers that it’s encouraged more conversation and engagement in the classroom. And if it helps to bring a greater sense of purpose and of shared ownership in RE, that will be a good thing."

Ranjit: "To have an officially-approved dispositions framework has really helped us in our curriculum development for the nursery and school. Alongside the Early Years Foundation Stage and National Curriculum, we took the RE dispositions as another facet, setting requirements for our curriculum as a whole (rather than limiting it to the study of RE). So, the dispositions are always on the table when we’re planning our curriculum. They extend into our teacher training and work with families. We’re also refining a framework rooted more ‘organically’ in Sikh faith heritage, to have alongside the commonly-agreed framework. Rather than preaching to children, the onus is on us as adults to create a value-rich environment around them to enable them to flourish. And that starts with the simple things, to provide love and good nourishment and, in the spirit of our school motto, to be both humble and wise – ‘man neeva, mat uchi’. It involves having faith that extraordinary things can be achieved in ordinary, mundane life."

Gopinder: "The dispositions aren’t something you can ‘teach’ as such. While you can name and discuss them, it helps to see them as part of what gets called the ‘hidden curriculum’. Funnily enough, some time ago a large framed poster of the 24 dispositions, which hangs in the nursery manager’s office, had been taken away for repair. I remember walking in and saying, ‘Oh, where have the dispositions gone?’ I liked his reply, as we looked at the blank space on the wall.  ‘The dispositions…? They’ve dissolved all around into the nursery!’"