3 Understanding Pedagogy in RE

Julian Stern

a_Pencils-21.jpg The RE curriculum brings together teachers (whose work is pedagogy) and pupils (whose work is learning) (Stern 2006, chapter 5). ‘The curriculum’ describes what may be taught and learned, whilst ‘pedagogy’ describes how it might be taught and learned. Grimmitt has noted that, of the various approaches to RE pedagogy represented in his book, it is quite remarkable that to date there have been no extended, independent evaluations of any of the pedagogies of RE represented in this book, other than as pilot studies undertaken during the life of the projects themselves’ (Grimmitt 2000, p 22). Since 2000, there has been some significant new research on RE pedagogy.

a_Pencils-21.jpg Most of the traditions of RE pedagogy (as described in Grimmitt 2000) are broadly in the constructivist tradition, although it is only Grimmitt himself (within that book) who writes extensively about constructivism. A constructivist approach also matches government descriptions of the importance of RE, as national guidance focuses on intrinsic values of the subject. The National Framework document asserts:

Religious education encourages pupils to learn from different religions, beliefs, values and traditions while exploring their own beliefs and questions of meaning. It challenges pupils to reflect on, consider, analyse, interpret and evaluate issues of truth, belief, faith and ethics and to communicate their responses.
Religious education encourages pupils to develop their sense of identity and belonging. It enables them to flourish individually within their communities and as citizens in a pluralistic society and global community.
(QCA 2004.)

a_Pencils-21.jpg Blaylock (2004, with Blaylock based at NATRE) describes six schools of thought in RE, with phenomenology providing a platform, a ‘given’, for RE, even if it is not the whole pedagogical toolkit for RE. What is interesting is that, for Blaylock, phenomenology and the other pedagogies described here can be cumulative, and can work in any order. A ‘humaniser’ start can be complemented by a ‘postmodern’ piece of work, and, crucially, vice versa.

It is worth noting that Blaylock is not describing all the possible pedagogies of RE, and that confessional RE is not included in his modelling, despite its popularity across many countries, and its continued existence (sometimes almost as an ‘underground movement’, as in Thompson 2004a, 2004b) in the UK. Meanwhile, as part of the Westhill seminar series, Stern (2010, with Stern based at York St John University) conducted research on how research itself might be an appropriate pedagogy in RE – as it could be in other school subjects. These pedagogies are exemplified by Blaylock in this downloadable article: 7 Ways Around Easter: A Pedagogical Fantasy.pdf.

a_Pencils-21.jpg Jackson’s interpretive approach (Jackson 1997, Ipgrave et al. 2009, based at the University of Warwick) has generated a whole tradition of research on pedagogy in RE across Europe and beyond. The emphasis has been on action research – teachers involved in a cyclical research process, analysing their own practice, making an intentional change to their practice as a result of that analysis, and then re-analysing their practice. Baumfield and colleagues across the UK have been leading a large and hugely influential ‘does RE work?’ research project (with an initial position in Baumfield 2008, with Baumfield based at the University of Glasgow).

VIDEO: The interpretive Approach - Bob Jackson


  • Baumfield, V (2008) ‘Demanding RE: Engaging research, scholarship and practice to promote learning’. British Journal of Religious Education 30:1, January 2008, pp1-2.
  • Grimmitt, M (ed) (2000) Pedagogies of Religious Education: Case Studies in the Development of Good Pedagogic Practice; Great Wakering, Essex: McCrimmons.
  • Ipgrave, J, Jackson, R and O’Grady, K (eds) (2009) Religious Education Research Through a Community of Practice: Action Research and the Interpretive Approach; Münster: Waxmann.
  • Jackson, R (1997) Religious Education: An Interpretative Approach; London: Hodder.
  • Stern, L J (2006) Teaching Religious Education: Researchers in the Classroom; London: Continuum.
  • Stern, L J (2010) ‘Research as Pedagogy: Building Learning Communities and Religious Understanding in RE’, British Journal of Religious Education, 32:2, March 2010, pp 133-146.