Careers with Religious Studies / Religious Education

careersFollowing a number of comments on Facebook, I thought I’d share some thoughts about how to show Careers in Religious Studies for our pupils.  RS has an additional issue that other subjects don’t – parent perception. Parents get the value of Geography and MFL as they are directly transferable.  Maths and English is essential, Music and Dance lead into their appropriate industries but what does RS do – other than enabling you to ‘become a vicar’?  I can understanding this inaccurate perception and I’ve done a lot at my school to stop hearing “Why do we have to do this subject, it doesn’t impact me.”  I began at a new school about 18 months ago and I had that comment every lesson for the first year, until I changed my track.


Pupils need two things to make a subject acceptable to them : Consistency in lessons (ie they know what to expect) and high quality, relevant lessons.  If you can master those then the silent majority will stop asking the question and the more outspoken ones won’t want to ask it as “It’s not my favourite subject, but it’s alright.”

Once these were established I moved onto three approaches.

  1. I created a corridor display addressing why doing RS? This meant to I could point pupils to that when they started to ask the question.  This display is partly taken from an Open University resource.  The full display is below.Careers display – title
    Careers – part 1
    Careers – part 2
    Careers- Open University
  2. Using the excellent REonline resources ( I showed one a lesson to EVERY class.  I’d love there to be more- there are 7 of them at the moment. I showed them at the end of each lesson without commenting.  The first few led to cynical comments but I persevered, which led to one pupil commenting on A Level option evening “I wasn’t thinking about RS but I am now after those videos – the recipe designer was the one that got me to think.” – that student wants to be a journalist.REOnline
  3. Use visitors.  Pupils need tdco see faith makes a difference in the world.  I’ve work with the local university asking their lecturers to come in, the local Diocese and church and used whatever contacts I have formed.  That way pupils get to meet people from other faith communities and see that faith is important in our world. This is a picture of Prof Clough who visited to talk about animal ethics in intensive farming techniques – something I knew very little about!
  4. Use your pupils.  If you already have a GCSE cohort why not record them saying why they opted or what they enjoy in RS – and show this to your pupils lower down the school. Remember if you start targeting options in Year 7 pupil will be much more responsive later.  Do it softly for a more subtle approach. Also bring a pupil along at an open evening for GCSE of A Level – pupils love talking to other pupils and seeing that people recognise and know do RS!
  5. Play to your courses strengths. If you do morality at GCSE or A Level then do a unit on that earlier – also get wooden train track out for the Trolley problem, or Domino’s out for the Cosmological argument.  Make it gorgeous. Because it is.


The other huge side to the coin is parents.  For parents evening I created a leaflet for GCSE which talked about why we study it, what the course is about, homework and intervention, famous people who had done RS and  where RS can lead to.  I gave this out at Year 9 option evening as well as Year 10 and Year 11 parents evening.  I also made a separate leaflet for Philosophy and Ethics (A Level RS).  By my team and I giving these to all the parents I saw at Parents Evening this has really helped with parent perception.

These are the leaflets for download :

GCSE Leaflet
A Level leaflet

I don’t think we should need to do this, but in the world that we live in it’s essential we do.  RS is too important to be ignored, and it impacts the world in a huge way.

Please feel free to use any of these resources – I have gleaned lots of these from multiple sources on the internet – so thank you all for contributing!

I hope you have found this post interesting – I’ve enjoyed writing it!  Please post comments on twitter @sheltont101 or facebook.



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What is a faith school?

I have spent many years working in a secondary Church of England school, and am a governor for a C of E Primary School but it led me to wonder – what is a faith school and why is there the controversy currently on them?


For the sake of this article, I am going to look at faith school’s as being Church of England, but similar strands can be made of all faith schools.

How are faith schools organised?

Did you know that there are two types of Church of England School?  Voluntary Controlled and Voluntary Assisted schools?  Voluntary Controlled (VC) are run by the local authority (or delegated Academy) and have no financial contribution from the Church. Voluntary Assisted (VA) schools do have some financial support from the C of E.  Governance of both VC and VA schools can be different, and there is more input from the local church or Diocese (wider area of C of E churches).

Roughly 1/3rd of all schools in England are faith based.  The Church of England is the largest, with just under 23% of schools operated by them (19% Primary, 6% Secondary), and 14% of the pupils of England’s pupils educated in them.  Next is Roman Catholic (at 10% of schools), followed by Methodist, other Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Greek Orthodox, Quaker, Seventh Day Adventist and URC.  (see Table at the bottom of of this document for the full breakdown). Surprisingly, this is about half of what it used to be, prior to the 1944 education act.  The vast majority of faith schools are VC, with only 22% of primary and 17% of secondary schools being VA, however almost all of the Roman Catholic schools in England are VA.


Table showing the % of faith schools across England

Since 2000 there has been an increase of both primary and secondary schools which have a faith foundation, but there has been a greater increase of secondary schools converting or starting as faith based ones.

What are the main differences between Faith and Maintained schools?

In some ways, not much.  VA and VC schools can set their own RE curriculum (and so can Academies), in a VA school there needs to be two more Foundation Governors than any other type.  Collective Worship is expected to be Christian (the law states in maintained schools is should be the majority Christian) and schools are also Ofsted’d – RE can be inspected – but only in terms of teaching and learning and progress, not content.


So, what makes a Church school distinctive?

In addition to the Governance differences, the main difference are ethos and inspections.

Ethos is something that every school has, but many find hard to describe.  Ethos is about the feel of the place, the holistic nature of the school.  For some schools, they should describe their ethos of ‘caring’ or ‘looking out for others’, and whilst this is true for Church schools as well as secular ones, there should be something deeper in a C of E school. Caring, for example, is about looking after others.  In a non-faith school school’s would adopt this value, but in a faith school this would be adopted through the lens of Jesus caring for people, or God caring for the planet.  There also may be application of this, so that the pupils at school care for others outside their school as an active way of demonstrating God’s care.

With regards to subjects, a faith based subject should not make too much difference to them.  Romeo and Juliet will still be taught the same way, Evolution and the Big Bang are taught the same, and the facts about the Roman Invasion in 1066 don’t change!  The main difference is staff trying to tie Christian Values into this work to apply it to something important today for the pupils, ie Romeo and Juliet the concept of unconditional love and forgiveness, Big Bang and Evolution raising the question of WHY and HOW, 1066 about wisdom and what it meant to have the “Divine Right of Kings”

Ethos is also focussed on differently.  To help embed ethos, the school may work with a local church or employ a Chaplain.  Their role is NOT normally to convert people to the faith, merely provide additional support pastorally, normally with a faith-based focus.  They may lead Collective Worship, Prayer and reflections for staff and be involved with the creation of a Christian strapline, school prayer or Christian values.

At secondary level, they may also lead a Christian Ethos group, helping work with the pupils on the production of Collective Worship.  There may be services at a local church too at the main Christian festivals.  It is hoped that since parents sent their child to a C of E school, there would be no issues in attendance!


Within the C of E schools, the other difference is SIAMS. SIAMS is the C of E and Methodist inspection service, aka Ofsted Section 48 inspection.  They have the authority to inspect :

o Distinctive Christian character (Ethos)
o Collective worship
o Religious education
o Leadership and management (seeing how the school is distinctively Christian)

Please note that RE gets inspected in a SIAMS, as well as a normal Ofsted.  The difference is that SIAMS can inspect the content of RE, as well as teaching and learning, however Ofsted do not.  This is judged on the basis of an additional Self Evaluation Form with appropriate evidence.

Other denominations and faiths may also have the same responsibilities.

So, why the controversy?

A lot of noise in the press is about after-school care and lessons provided by fundamental religious believers.  Schools which are faith-based (as discussed in this article) are subject to the normal checks and balances that schools undertake.  Admissions often causes controversy as schools are able to select on faith, however a lot of schools do not do this.  Indeed, the C of E says that they seek to be faith based schools in the local community so most secondary and primary schools may have a small percentage of faith applications however most are community based.  There are also a lot less faith based schools (outside of Christianity) than people imagine.


In my opinion faith schools add to a fabric of our multi-cultural society, and as much as people may be concerned about faith-based input, when done well, it can surely only add to the character of the pupils in their care.  It is up to the pupils to decide what their own morals or beliefs are, and the schools are there to provide a framework to support this private investigation.

As ever, any questions, queries or comments please tweet @sheltont101



taken from

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Excel / SIMS import

Problem : After spending hours writing reports in excel for pupils I then need to copy and paste each one into the right columns in SIMS.  This also takes ages.

I always felt there was a way to import the entire data sheet – and there is.  It is actually pretty simple, and this blog is about how to do it.  This is the 10 stage process – it takes about 30 seconds in total after you write your reports.

Step 1 : Export the marksheet from SIMS into excel – as a formatted sheet.


Step 2 : Unprotect the sheet – to do this right click on the sheet name, then click unprotect


Step 3 : Write your reports


Step 4 : Protect the sheet (right click the tab name, click protect, ok)

Step 5 : Save your excel file as a xms file type

Step 6 : Go back into SIMS, go to Routines, Data In, Assessment and Import from Spreadsheet


Step 7 : Click the folder icon, find your file.


Step 8 : Click ok to the dialogue box confirming the names of the columns


Step 9 : Click next twice

Step 10 : The columns look like they are blank. Click out of the marksheet and load it up and they will be there.

I take no responsibility for this post!  It works for me but please check your reports and marksheets carefully!


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Quick and Easy personalised school reports

One of the most viewed blogs of mine is on Quick and Easy effective marking strategies (  I suppose this is as as teachers we are all so busy with preparation, teaching and everything else that goes into the job that we want to save time but still be as effective as we can be – it’s hard enough trying to have a work-life balance as it is.  To help with this blog you will need to access this excel file : Report Excel.

Well report writing season maybe upon us soon, and we all have totally different expectations on us with regards to writing reports.  Teachers standard 8 and 3 has within it teachers should :

communicate effectively with parents with regard to pupils’ achievements and well-being [and] demonstrate an understanding of and take responsibility for promoting high standards of literacy, articulacy and the correct use of standard English, whatever the teacher’s specialist subject.

Now I am confident that we are all able to do this well, or else we wouldn’t be in the job we are.  BUT it does take time to write reports, proof read them, check for gender inaccuracies etc.

I have been musing about how it may be possible to speed up report writing and reports being personalised – I am not advocating the use of non-personalised comment banks.  Reports need to be personal to the pupil – I am just suggestion a method to do this which can be set up for you (I’ve attached the Report Excel file which will work in excel format).  I also know that most schools require very different things from staff so I am trying to create a process which should be fairly straightforward to adjust as needed and copy and pastable into any school based software.  This may seem a complicated post but it’s basically the thinking and instructions to get the personalised reporting system working I’ve created.

Excel is a great tool and I am sure most teachers have used it.  But under the hood of it it can do some pretty amazing stuff – I know this may seem a complicated blog on how to set it up but once you have done it it is really straight forward.  Just following my instructions to the letter.

1) Load up the excel document attached and go into input sheet. Report Excel
2) Put the surname and first name in (but if you have the your data preset as SURNAME FIRSTNAME in the same cell simply copy and paste all of this into calculation sheet in column A, then in column B the first name will appear. You can then copy and paste this out (but paste it as Paste / Paste Values into input sheet column B))
3) Put M or F in column C of the input to indicate the gender
4) Using any reports you have written previously copy in any positive comments you may have used WITHOUT the pupils name in column D. (for example John has done well in his course this year would read has done well in his course this year.  The more  you include the more options you will have.
5) In column E you need to include as many targets or areas to improve that you can – again with no names or opening structure – so To improve Charlie should write in more detail would simply read should write in more detail. You need a good amount of these (I suggest at least 15 but you’ll have these from your reports from previous years – 2 will be used in each report)
6) In column F you need to include a comments about homework (ie needs to spend longer completing his homework).
7) Next find and replace all he or she comments as a number 2 (using the whole words only box) – this will make your comments gender specific to the child automatically.
8) Next find and replace all his and her comments as a number 3 (using the whole words only box) – this will make your comments gender specific to the child automatically.
9) Remember to spell check your reports (F7) at this point.

THEN go to target sheet and the just select the phrases you have chosen from the drop down – the number 2’s and 3’s will be replaced at the next stage.

On the output sheet you will see the full report ready for you to copy and paste out.

I know it seems complicated, but it should be really fast once you have transferred your comments out – the set up is always the hardest.

Hope this really is a useful way of speeding up reports – ensuring that they are truly personalised.  As ever I hope you have found this post helpful and thought provoking. Please feel free to comment or reply or follow me on twitter @sheltont101

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What I wish I’d been told….

I was reflecting on my experiences of being a mentor this week, and thinking how the role has changed over the years I’ve done it, both for PGCE,  NQT and other roles. It led me to think about what we as teachers expect from our trainees,  and what is it essential for them to know in the training year.

This is a blogged reflection I wish I’d read all those years ago….

Dear trainee,

Welcome to the world of teaching. It has been said it is the noblest profession, the one that changes hearts and minds and the one which inspires the next generation.  I would agree with that,  but whatever your motivation is for joining teaching remember motivation changes,  and this journey you are embarking on isn’t just going to change others,  it will affect your life, and every aspect of it. Safeguard what is dear to you.

Every new person to the job has reasons for coming- you would never have applied,  given up so much,  sat those tests and sacrificed money  and time observing schools in their usual work if you didn’t. We applaud you for it. But before you get swallowed up in the system,  write down 5 things that you want to be when you are a teacher- caring,  compassionate, available etc.  Refer back to it as your anchor throughout year. If not you’ll move to something unrecognizable within weeks.

Also bullet point down what you think makes a good teacher. You’ll need that as people seek to mold you. Some things will need to change but you are you,  an individual with a passion,  if not you would not have applied. My version of a great teacher was Professor Lupin in the great scene from Prisoner of Azkaban.


Full clip here (link is not my property, nor do I have any rights or responsibility for it)

His passion,  caring for his pupils,  modelling and pushing them,  whilst still being watchful helped me think about the teacher I wanted to be. And I still often refer back to that.

Be aware you will be ripped in different directions  this year,  uni, school,  family and assignments. Oh,  and your friends,  don’t lose them!  Know this,  and plan for it.  If you have a significant other, plan for them. Give them your time,  book an evening a week with them.  If you don’t the job won’t just swallow you up but really affect your relationships too (see ideas in my blog about work/life balance to help you with this if you need ( If you are single,  remember the same, it’s a job, it may feel like your life, but it’s not.

You are also a professional.  You need to act like it,  all the time. Even on your nights out.  Protect your facebook, make sure you aren’t in situations or photographs you will regret later-they have a nasty habit of appearing in the wrong settings. And always think,  what would my boss or head think he is tweeted this. If a future employer was to google you, what public information will pop up, and how costly will it be?

Schools will respect you for what you do and who you are.  Get involved, but don’t volunteer for everything-your primary focus is teaching and learning of your specialism. And developing to being the best you can be.

Your placements may not be in your dream school, but where you are may be someone else’s dream school – and they may work with you! Be careful what you say. Also in second placement,  watch what you say about your previous school,  you never know who knows who- it’s a small world!

And finally,  there is so much more that could be said, don’t work till the small hours every night,  sometimes you’ll need to but it’ll become routine and affect your health. You need to be awake for the reason for your preparation! You won’t achieve what you want to in a week,  term,  placement or even a year,  but you will see you start to change students and your own practice. Don’t burn yourself out trying to achieve the impossible. There is no silver bullet.

Teaching is a great job. This year is incredible tough. Hold onto those around you,  stay true to yourself,  and be proud.  You should be.


Many teachers in the UK

If you have any further thoughts about any of this of want to discuss it further, please feel free to tweet me @sheltont101

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SMSC – The sticky non-tangible essential stuff

I don’t blog often – mainly because I want to be inspired to blog – so I can write something meaningful and helpful to the teaching community.  The following is just my take on the topic of SMSC, and why it is essential to make explicit in our lesson.


In this blog post I wish to address:

  • What is SMSC?
  • How to make it explicit
  • Cross-subject examples showing how easy it is
  • Why do it? (SMSC and OFSTED)

What is SMSC?

I wonder how often we stop and reflect about the Social, Moral, Spiritual and Cultural (SMSC) aspects of our own lives.  As teachers, it’s sometimes a miracle that we stop and reflect at all – but not only is SMSC is the glue that holds OFSTED judgements together; it is the thing that in all of our lessons we should be getting pupils to reflect on in order for them to be full members of British Society.

I openly admit that I am a Religious Studies teacher, so I know I am open to the cries that I find this easier than most, but in this blog post I intend to reflect on how each subject can make a contribution to pupils own life-journey and how this time is essential in our lessons – both for us getting to know our pupils and for summary judgements made about our teaching and school.

The first thing I want to do is define my understanding of SMSC.  Social I am interpreting as how pupils relate to one another and the wider world, Moral is how pupils make judgements on what is right and wrong, Cultural is how the world around our pupils impacts on them – from popular culture to historic culture and everything in between and Spiritual – having pupils have their own space for reflection and nurturing their sense of ‘Awe and Wonder’.  (Awe and Wonder is the sense of amazement, or wow, or the light bulb moment where someone has an understanding of how this really impacts them).  I want to try and show how all of these can fit in any subject across the curriculum – it just takes stepping back and thinking.

How to make it explicit

In my lessons I try to have an SMSC question – I use two graphics (below) on my PowerPoint’s.  When pupils see these, they know that there are no ‘wrong’ answers in this. I don’t always ask for feedback, some questions are quite personal for pupils.  I let them do a think pair share, talk partners, snowball on postits, write on silent debate mind maps, have a class debate – anything suitable for the pupils I am teaching.   Any pupil of any ability can do well in this section of the lesson – they just need the confidence to share.  Clearly there are issues with making it an explicit section of a lesson, but sometimes this does make it easier.

Cross-subject examples showing how easy it is

Firstly – an example – it’s a Year 11 GCSE lesson on Economics – pupils are studying economies of scale (which is when companies are working well – and at just the right level for their workers, maximising output and charging correctly to maximise profits  – operational efficiency).  Pupils have an exam in five weeks and SMSC is the last thing on your – and their minds.  However, a simple question like “Why is a company operating at their economies of scale helpful for the country or local economy?” suddenly becomes and SMSC question – it is a Cultural question.  Pupils get to reflect on how it would help with full employment etc – and this can then lead onto the benefits for society on full employment – how people feel etc.  This is then spiritual territory.

Another example, science – how is that spiritual?  Imagine you are looking at survival of the fittest – should Humans really kill other animals – just because we can – does that make us the best.  Immediately a spiritual question – and also a moral one.

PE – Social through and through – playing games – learning to live together.  Even through a spanner in the works by getting someone to cheat – this would cause moral questioning.

MFL – when pupils are learning new vocabulary get them to think about Culture of the language – so if doing French, what are the French like?  How do they add to Europe?

History – Were people’s actions of the past always right or wrong? (Moral)  Forget what they did – what should they have done?  Can we even make that judgement as we weren’t there?  How will people judge us?

English – characters – in Blood Brothers, was it right for the shootings?  Who has the right to ‘persuade’ people to move?  When is a house a home?  All of these are spiritual and moral questions.

The conclusion I am reaching in my teaching is that SMSC is not difficult – it’s about giving pupils the time to reflect and think – and express their views in lesson.  I know that that may be difficult to do in time-pressed lessons, but my experience is that it enables pupils to understand the topic more and gets them engaged at a deeper level – meaning to more thought through answers in exams and better grades.

Why do it? (SMSC and OFSTED)

SMSC is more than a whole section of a lesson write up on the OFSTED evidence form (  It’s more than something which is promoted well to get an Outstanding school report (The school’s thoughtful and wide-ranging promotion of pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and their physical well-being enables them to thrive in a supportive, highly cohesive learning community.).  It’s more than something best not neglected for an inadequate (there are serious weaknesses in the overall promotion of pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development or their physical well-being, so that pupils are intolerant of others and/or reject any of the core values fundamental to life in modern Britain.)

I believe that  the Role of SMSC in all of our lessons is something that helps boosts attainment and seeks to start to sew the torn fabric of society back together as it helps build up a framework for pupils to use in later life to help them make useful and good decisions.

If you have any further thoughts about any of this of want to discuss it further, please feel free to tweet me @sheltont101.


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Differentiation made easy


Up to 12 months ago I always found differentiation difficult and extremely tine consuming.   I teach in a mixed ability 11-16 comprehensive school,  and often was taken to task during observations about differentiation.  Fortunately @heatexedu mentioned to me about home and away groups, so I did some research in this and based my ideas on @learningspy (


The concept is simple,  pupils sit in mixed ability groups,  gaining assistance from their peers and developing gifted and talented leadership skills-this is their home group.   Pupils then, at a key part of the learning in the lesson move to their away group where differentiated work given out.


So what type of work can be given? The truth is anything.  As pupils aren’t mixing with others pupils they’ll never know the differences between their work.  A simple fill in the blanks “why have they got the first letter completed?” question from the pupils doesn’t happen as they are only sat with people of the same work! But a more clever way I’ve found of differentiation is when pupils are in their groups but each group has a different topic to research, so can have differentiated research-from different ability books to different links to websites.  Again by having the class in groups make this a lot easier to plan for and control.  This approach means that it makes sure that I plan for differentiation, leading to a better learning experience for my pupils.

I’ve promoted this with ITT staff and seen it done really well – with pupils moving around the room midway through lesson to their differentiated groups and moving back after their task has been completed and I’ve seen pupils go to different corners of the room to get their differentiated work before moving back to their normal seats immediately.  Most pupils are happy with this arrangement, and this provision has been one factor in ‘outstanding’ grades being awarded as it is helping all pupils to reach their potential.

I’ve also seen it done badly, where pupils have been put in their group but work hasn’t been differentiated – leading to sinking ships without support.

Where planned it goes really well.


I’ve found that giving each group a similar themed identity has worked really well.  I first tried shapes – Triangles, Squares, Pentagon, Hexagon etc.  Then I did colours, Red, Blue, Orange, Yellow etc.  The trick is to have a method behind your choices.  This year I’ve done Philosophy Groups – pupils in all of my classes were given a Philosophy Group – Kant, Plato, Aquinas, Descartes, Socrates and Augustine. At the start of the year the pupils got into their groups and I gave them information about their Philosopher and they wrote their group name on the front of their book.

Another variation I’ve done of this was to give a group name and number in that group to each child (ie Descarte 1, 2, 3 or 4).  Then during the lesson I can shout out ‘Descarte 4″ so I can ask targetted questions, at a differentiated level, to a specific child.  This also has the advantage of saying ‘all number 1’s get together’ and I have mixed ability groups.

As said previously, this works well, as with any teaching, when it is planned and you know your group.  Clearly your own individual touch and group identities will help a long way.

If you have found this blog helpful, please RT it or follow me on Twitter – @sheltont101.  Thanks for your time.

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