4 Inclusions and RE

Julian Stern

Everyone thinks inclusion is a good idea, and thinks that exclusion is a bad idea. Research on inclusion, for RE, investigates not only how children with a variety of needs can be included in RE, but also how a variety of religious and other belief systems (and their believers) can be included in RE. Inclusion is an immensely significant idea, and RE can contribute to inclusion, in its content (the curriculum) and in its pedagogy (the relationships between teacher and pupils). Important research on how RE can in itself model inclusiveness has been completed by Hull (as in Hull 1998, 2005).

a_Pencils-11.jpg Hull (based at The Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham) is concerned with the ‘deep’ issues of the nature of humanity, and also with the way in which different pupils learn. Teachers may be religious or not, but in RE they should avoid ‘religionism’ which he describes, like racism, as depending ‘upon rejection and exclusion’ (Hull 1998, p 55) – making the ‘other’. Children and their teachers should be included, and this is a matter of rights, including, from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), ‘the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion’ (Hull 1998, p 59).

Much of UK RE has drifted away from the study of religion, to become a way of making ‘good pupils’, but Hull says that inclusion will also mean the inclusion of religions themselves – the religious and non-religious positions of teachers and pupils alike. He says that in the UK, RE should, perhaps, develop a richer Christian theology, and explore its status as a branch of practical theology. That must be done additionally from the point of view of Islam, and other religions. On the continent, maybe religious education should gradually re-invent itself as a diverse religious activity, based upon a philosophy of secular education enriched by religious and theological interpretations from the church, the mosque and the synagogue. (Hull 2005, p 15-16.)

a_Pencils-11.jpg Brown (based at the University of Worcester) has written widely on the ‘regular’ teaching of RE to pupils with special educational needs (as in Brown 1996), and has also researched and written on important issues for RE such as loss and grief. Her approach has been to treat with equal seriousness religions and the children learning about religions, providing accessible ways of learning for all. Stern (2006, chapter 4, and with more examples in Stern 2007, chapter 8, with Stern based at York St John University) includes work pupils with special educational needs that can be used with all pupils.
For example, adjectives (‘angry’, ‘frightened’, ‘cold’, ‘peaceful’, ‘relaxed’, ‘busy’, ‘safe’, ‘happy’, ‘sad’, ‘beautiful’, and ‘interesting’) were applied to different places (a school, a hospital, a Hindu mandir visited by the pupils), and explanations were given of each attribution. Krisman’s sensitive and creative work (e.g. Krisman 2001, with Krisman based at Little Heath School, Romford) is exemplary, too.



The National Society (www.natsoc.org.uk) has supported excellent development work in RE and special educational needs, for example O’Brien (2002) for pupils on the autistic spectrum and those with severe and complex learning difficulties, and Orchard (2001, with Orchard based at the University of Oxford) for challenging pupils aged 11 to 14.

The biggest area of growth has been that supported by the Farmington Institute, who had a large number of FISNMA (Farmington Institute Special Needs Millennium Awards) award-holders, along with a number of other Farmington reports on RE and special needs (from www.farmington.ac.uk).

Books and Journals

  • Brown, E (1996) Religious Education for All; London: David Fulton.
  • Hull, J M (1998) Utopian Whispers: Moral, Religious and Spiritual Values in Schools; Norwich: RMEP.
  • Hull, J M (2005) ‘Religious Education in Germany and England: The Recent Work of Hans-Georg Ziebertz’, British Journal of Religious Education, 27:1, pp 5-17, January 2005.
  • Krisman, A (2001) ‘The Yin and Yang of RE and Special Needs: Teaching RE to Pupils With Special Needs Within a Multi-Faith Community’, SHAP: World Religions in Education: 2001/2001: Living Community, pp 83-84, 2001.
  • O’Brien, L (2002) Connecting with RE; London: National Society.
  • Orchard, J (2001) Raising the Standard, Flying the Flag – Challenging Activities for all in RE at Key Stage 3; London: National Society.
  • Stern, L J (2006) Teaching Religious Education: Researchers in the Classroom; London: Continuum.
  • Stern, L J (2007) Schools and Religions: Imagining the Real; London: Continuum.