Religious observance and spiritual development within Scotland's 'Curriculum for Excellence'

Younger, Stephen (2018) Religious observance and spiritual development within Scotland's 'Curriculum for Excellence'. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This research examines the current requirements and practices of Religious Observance (RO) and spiritual development within Scotland’s ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ (CfE). The research is focussed on the nondenominational school sector - approximately 90% of Scottish schools. The CfE has brought a shift in focus from solely curricular content to greater emphasis on character formation. Four key descriptors, termed “capacities”, are used: responsible citizens, effective contributors, successful learners and confident individuals.
A number of supplementary programmes are being promoted to achieve this through schemes such as the ‘Rights Respecting School Award’, ‘Inspire-Aspire’, ‘Peer Mediation’ and
‘Restorative Justice’.
The CfE details certain age-appropriate experiences and outcomes which pupils are expected to attain across eight core curricular subjects. In contrast, RO and spiritual development are outlined very differently by six key ‘Sensings’ in the ‘Report of the Religious Observance Review Group’ (2004), referred to in this thesis as the RORG. These
Sensings have minimal descriptions, no exact definition and do not have detailed age-appropriate experiences and outcomes. The Sensings are: sensing mystery, sensing values, sensing meaningfulness, sensing a changed quality in awareness, sensing ‘otherness’ and sensing challenge.
This thesis addresses a number of questions: defining ‘spirituality’ in a way that can sit comfortably within Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence (CfE); how RO events and these Sensings are perceived by pupils in particular - their voices are given especial prominence throughout; where RO and spiritual development are perceived as ‘belonging’ or ‘fitting’ within the CfE; how the ‘success’ of Sensing-rich RO events can be assessed and measured; crucially - what the children and young people think of the RO they receive; the validity and ‘completeness’ of the Sensings; how to train school staff and school chaplains in delivering spiritual development.
The research involved participant observation and interviews with policymakers (advisors, consultants, Education Scotland staff, Religious Representatives on local Council Education committees, and members of school senior management teams), practitioners (chaplains and youth workers tasked with the actual delivery of RO events), parents of Primary school and Secondary school pupils, and - crucially - pupils (from Primary 3 to Secondary 6).
The goal was to record and analyse their principles, practices and lived experience of RO and spiritual development. In total qualitative data was gathered in thirty-four
interview sessions from nine policy-makers, eight practitioners, nine parents,
seventeen Primary school pupils and thirty-five Secondary school pupils. The
practitioners, parents and pupils between them were connected to nondenominational
schools covering seven Councils: City of Aberdeen, Dumfries and Galloway, Fife, City of Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire and South Lanarkshire. The pupils between them came from four different nondenominational Primary schools, three non-denominational Secondary schools, and one independent School (Christian faith-based, fee-paying). This gave a reasonable sample of Scottish schools.
The definition of ‘spirituality’ that I developed (p 44) is that “Spirituality
is that uniquely human capacity and need for a sense of identity and of integrity,
of place and of purpose, which can only be fully satisfied in relationship with
others and with a transcendent Other.” A full explanation for this definition is
given in the text. The pilot study showed that pupils of all ages did not grasp the
language and vocabulary of the Sensings as given in the RORG and in conclusion I
offer an alternative “child-friendly” re-titling as follows: sensing mystery (the
“Wow!” moments), sensing values (the “Now...” moments), sensing
meaningfulness (the “How...?” moments), sensing a changed quality in
awareness (the “Aum” moments), sensing ‘otherness’ (the ‘Narnia’ moments)
and sensing challenge (the “Ow!” moments) (p 54). Once reworded and
explained all pupils were quick to grasp most of the Sensings though ‘a changed
quality in awareness’ and ‘otherness’ - perhaps requiring higher order thinking
skills - were only accessible to older pupils (though they could not always discern
or define the distinctions between them). I found that Policy-makers had a clear
perception of how RO fits within CfE but that the actual practitioners (many of
them from faith-based backgrounds) frequently struggled to achieve clarity on
this point and were often unable to articulate a clear educational purpose to
their RO input (p 113). A lack of contextual awareness, of training, of time, and
of ability to think beyond their theological frameworks often hampered them.
Clear and positive and fruitful metaphors for RO emerge from the
research: RO provides an important ‘space’ within CfE (p 119), and a place for
‘exploration’ and for ‘questioning.’ A consistent conclusion from my data
reflects on how both practitioners and participants in RO events viewed them and constructed meaning from them: this was frequently done by offering
opposed pairs and, almost literally, placing themselves or their RO events at
some point on the continuum between two poles (p 124). A whole spectrum of
opposed pairs were found: from indoctrination (RO) to education (RME); from
collective (RO) to individual (RME); from emotional (RO) to intellectual (RME),
though practitioners were frequently at pains to make clear that this did not
mean RO was inferior or in any way anti-intellectual or lacking in intellectual
rigour; from experiential (RO) to explorative (RME); and from inspirational (RO)
to informational (RME).
My findings were that practitioners offered a range of measures for
assessing the ‘success’ of their RO events (p 139) which are critiqued: “an RO
event is successful” - when I think it is, if it was enjoyed, if a school is “happy
with it”, if there is pupil engagement, if pupil feedback says it has been, if your
chosen quantifier says it has been, and if there are no complaints about it. I
follow this with a discussion on the issues of getting RO ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ (p
152). The view of parents on the qualifications for those delivering RO to their
children were also explored at this point, with the great majority strongly
favouring faith-based practitioners (p 162).
A major feature of this research has been to seek and to summarise the
first-hand views and the authentic voices of the children and young people
within CfE. Their main reactions are summarised (p 172) as “Don’t make it [RO]
a policed endurance test”; “Don’t make it so boring”; “Don’t tell us what to
think”; “Let us ask our big questions. Help us find some answers”; and “Don’t
exclude us. Let us have a say. Let us help you.”
In the light of the research two additional Sensings are strongly indicated:
Sensing Stillness (p 192) and Sensing Community (p 200). Sensing Community in
particular was identified as offering significant potential benefits for RO (p 206):
creating a beneficial group identity or ethos for the school community, building
pupil capacity as responsible citizens able to take their place in the wider
community beyond the school gates, enabling individual and group resilience in
the face of crisis, sharing emotional and spiritual experiences that could enrich
the lives of all the participants, and the acquisition and exploration of values
together in a safe and protected environment.
The final section (p 210) explores the creation and use of a tool for
teaching practitioners to identify and explore the Sensings: the ‘Spiritual
Moments’ box. In Educating school staff to experience and deliver the sensings
(p 223), it merged that the issue is one of helping secular staff in particular to
find a spiritual context for exploration and development of the sensings. In
training faith representatives to experience and deliver the sensings (p 227) the
issue is one of helping faith practitioners to explore and develop the sensings in
the secular educational framework.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Curriculum for Excellence, Religious Observance, time for reflection, spiritual development, Scottish schools, non-denominational, Sensing.
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
L Education > LC Special aspects of education
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Education
Supervisor's Name: Phipps, Professor Alison and McKinney, Professor Stephen
Date of Award: 2018
Depositing User: Rev. S. Younger
Unique ID: glathesis:2018-8903
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 20 Mar 2018 13:09
Last Modified: 19 Apr 2018 07:35

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