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Digitising the History of Education Bulletin 1968-2002 and Researcher 2003-2009

1 January 2010 - 31 December 2010

PI/s in Exeter: Professor Rob Freathy

Research partners: and Dr Stephen Parker (University of Worcester)

Funding awarded: £ 6,997

Sponsor(s): History of Education Society

About the research

A Research Project funded by The British Academy
We have received a research grant of £6,995 from The British Academy for a project titled ‘The hidden history of curriculum change in Religious Education in English schools, 1969-1979’. The project will last from 1st September 2009 to 31st August 2011.

Between 1969 and 1979, the aims, methods and content of Religious Instruction/Education (RE) in English schools underwent a major transition. This has traditionally been characterised as a shift from child-centred, neo-confessional, Christian instruction to phenomenological, non-confessional, multi-faith RE. However, recently it has been argued that the new ‘paradigm’ of RE, which emerged in the 1970s and which remains dominant today, continued to exhibit a confessionalist approach, albeit one that was moderate, liberal, ecumenical and/or secular. (In RE discourse, ‘confessionalism’ refers to teaching that seeks to engender particular beliefs and practices.) However, in the existing historiography of English RE, insufficient primary source work has been utilised to explore the reasons for, nature of, and responses to, the alleged ‘paradigm shift'. Furthermore, many contributors have narrated the development of pedagogical and curriculum theory, but failed to discuss (i) how these theories became embedded in local policies and classroom practices and (ii) how these RE theories, policies and practices can be located within, and contribute to our understanding of, the wider historical context.

In response, our project seeks to evaluate these conflicting interpretations of the past with reference to previously unutilised archival material and the previously ignored oral testimonies of key informants. Through an analysis of these sources, we wish to investigate (i) the relationship between the wider historical context and the alleged ‘paradigm shift’ and between RE theory, policy and practice; (ii) how, if at all, the new theories become embedded in RE policy and practice; (iii) the role that specialized RE networks, pressure groups, centres and organizations played in the changing nature of policy, curriculum and professional practice; (iv) how the competing discourses surrounding RE were shaped and influenced by those seeking an alternative model of RE; (v) whether the major agents of change really were university academics in Education, Theology and cognate disciplines, as has been widely documented; and (vi) how the curriculum changes were influenced and perceived by other stakeholders, such as parents, teachers, the faith communities, politicians and the press.

Overall, the general aim of the project is to raise historiographical standards in relation to the contemporary history of RE. The intended outputs are a number of complementary conference papers and three articles focusing respectively on (i) historiographical issues, (ii) the educational findings, and (iii) the project’s contribution to our understanding of the wider historical context. To find out more about the project please email either or