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Occasional Papers

By publishing occasional papers Research for Resources in Religious Education at Stranmillis University College hopes to bring relevant and exciting new research to the attention of teachers, students and academics. There is a particular desire to promote the work of undergraduate and postgraduate students of the College and many of the contributors represent the best of a new breed of religious education specialists. Other papers are penned by more experienced writers and they use the 'occasional paper' format to stimulate discussion and debate around key issues in Religious Education, particularly within a Northern Irish context.

Adapting Godly Play for the Inclusive Classroom

Stacey Graham


The Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order (1989) sought to present the purpose of education in broad terms, including the aim to develop children spiritually. The legislation states that education ‘promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, intellectual and physical development of pupils at the school and thereby society; and prepares such pupils for the opportunities and experiences of adult life’. Despite this, in many schools across Northern Ireland, the development of the spiritual dimension of children is uncertain and the child’s capacity to experience and strive for the spiritual is often undermined. In this investigation I have used the action research method of Whitehead (1981, 1989) to explore one solution to this problem. In this method the problem is stated, the solution is imagined, implemented and evaluated and then ideas and practice are modified in light of the evaluation. The problem that I address is that in many cases religious education (RE) is not being carried out effectively and the spiritual development of the child is uncertain. The solution which I suggest might help to address this problem is ‘Godly Play’, an approach to religious education developed by the American religious educator and Montessori teacher called Jerome Berryman. In the course of my research I have used this method with a primary one class which has been participating in the enriched curriculum in Ballysillan Primary School in Belfast. I observed the children and evaluated their responses to the lessons and gained some insight into how we can aid spiritual development in children. In my opinion spiritual development can be most effective when: Teachers are clear about what spiritual qualities they are aiming to develop in children;  Story telling and discussion is used to stimulate times of reflection, awe and wonder for children;  Children are provided with the opportunity to respond personally, individually and creatively to such stimulus; There are opportunities for children to make choices It is argued that the teaching of RE should ‘respect the personal autonomy of each pupil, reflect the best practices of modern education and seek the highest standards of quality in all that it does’ (ETI 2000). In my opinion Godly Play may be able to do all of these things.

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Adapting Godly Play for the Inclusive Classroom (pdf)


Sharing Religious Education

Norman Richardson


My fundamental belief in writing this short paper is that inclusive religious education should be an important element of school education in a democratic society. Some people may regard pluralism and diversity in society as uncomfortable and even threatening, particularly in relation to religious belief and practice, but I believe that they provide exciting opportunities for developing positive awareness, deepened understanding and improved relationships. This is especially important in a society like Northern Ireland which is perceived to be divided along religious-cultural lines, and in such a context the role of the teacher of Religious Education becomes very important. In my view nowhere is this more significantly tested out at the present time than in Northern Ireland’s integrated schools, but it is no less crucial an issue in all other kinds of schools. This document has grown out of an in-service seminar organised by the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) for R.E. teachers from the integrated schools, both primary and secondary, in November 2002. I am grateful to NICIE staff and their R.E. Focus Group for the opportunity of sharing and discussing these ideas. However, the views expressed are my own and do not necessarily represent those of NICIE or its members. Thanks are also due to my colleague, James Nelson, for his helpful observations and suggestions.


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Sharing Religious Education(pdf)


Religion and Schools in Northern Ireland - Building a Consensus

James Nelson

This paper begins by assessing how consensus has been achieved in solving the problem of the role religion should play in schools in European states and regions. Particular consideration is given to the case of religious education in Northern Ireland and how, in the light of changing circumstances, consensus might be achieved in the future. It is suggested that a 'new consensus' must be rooted in reality, acknowledge wide diversity, empower schools to develop local solutions based on underlying principles and that any new syllabus must possess a clear pedagogical approach.
This paper was first presented at the conference of the Association of University Lecturers in Religious Education (AULRE) at Stranmillis University College, September 2006.


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Religion and Schools in Northern Ireland - building a consensus(pdf)


The Preparation of student teachers for teaching World Religions in Initial Teacher Education in Northern Ireland

Charlene Curry

The aim of education is to prepare pupils for living and working in a shared society and it is obvious that teachers play a key role in achieving this aim. For this reason, it is essential that in a religiously diverse society teachers are trained adequately to teach about world religions in the classroom. This small scale research project considers the extent to which RE specialist student teachers, preparing to enter the teaching profession in the incoming year, feel prepared to teach world religions within the RE revised curriculum in Northern Ireland. Research was carried out in the three higher education institutions that provide PostPrimary RE teacher training in Northern Ireland using questionnaires and focus groups with RE student teachers who specialise in RE. From an analysis of the data and a comparison with similar studies,this research thankfully highlights that higher education institutions have significantly increased their coverage of world religions, and as a result the majority of RE student teachers feel prepared to teach world religions at Key Stage 3.

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Initial Teacher Education Preparation for Teaching World Religions(pdf)


Student Teachers’ Perceptions of Primary Religious Education in Northern Ireland Schools

Norman Richardson

Using observations of Religious Education by student teachers from Stranmillis University College on placement in Northern Ireland primary schools, this paper examines some of the concerns and issues that their experiences raise.  Significant discontinuity is evident between the practice that is recommended to students in their initial teacher education courses and the situation that many of them find in schools.  The students’ concerns focus on the absence or limited treatment of RE in many schools and the narrow approaches in terms of both content and pedagogy that are often evident.  Particular concerns are expressed in relation to the way in which RE often fails to address issues of religious diversity.  A smaller number of students also found evidence of good practice, some of which was inspired by their own work with pupils. The paper concludes with some reflections on findings from outside Northern Ireland that suggest that these issues are not unique to that particular region.

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Student Teachers' Perceptions of Primary RE (pdf)


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