The Influence of Research-Oriented CPD on Religious Education Professionals
Submitting InstitutionYork St John University
Unit of AssessmentEducation
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Education: Curriculum and Pedagogy, Specialist Studies In Education
Summary of the impact
Professor Julian Stern was one of the lead organisers of, and
contributors to, a series of eleven research-oriented seminars (between
2004 and 2010), bringing together teachers, advisors, and higher education
professionals working on, and interested in, religious education research
in UK schools and internationally. This impact case study identifies the
influence of those seminars on the 161 participating professionals, on
pupils, and on schools. Evidence is provided of the widespread and
long-term impact of the research, particularly on the participants and on
pupils, both directly through the seminars and through the various
Underpinning research covered a range of issues in religious education,
notably the use in religious education of sacred texts, dialogue,
inclusion, pedagogy, human rights, ethnography, philosophy, pupil and
teacher lives, and creativity. Julian Stern's work discussed within these
seminars included research programmes on inclusion (carried out from 1997
to 2001), pedagogy (carried out from 2001 to 2010), philosophy (carried
out in 2006), and creativity (carried out between 1998 and 2010). His
published outputs provided a research base for all of the first six
seminars, and for elements of all eleven seminars, theorising the
relationship between research and pedagogy, and between research and
professional practice. Other research underpinning the seminars was
undertaken (between 1997 and 2010) by each of the 42 presenters at the
seminars — themselves including participants based in schools, advisory
work, and higher education institutions.
Julian Stern's research programme underpinning these seminars was carried
out whilst employed, at Brunel University (1997-2001), the University of
Hull (2001-2008), and subsequently at York St John University. The
research programme was linked through his membership (from 1998 to the
present day) of the Christian Education Movement (later Christian
Education) Research Committee, whose successful bid to the Westhill
Endowment Trust for funding supported the organisation of all the
One of the first and critical insights from Stern's research was his
theorising of the relationship between research and pedagogy, which
related the learning of pupils (especially that described as `creative'
learning) to the learning of teachers and so to the specialist learning
described as `research'. It makes use of imagined `typical' conversations
in classrooms to form the basis of an analysis of the relationship between
pupils and teachers and the `subject' of lessons (notably, religious
education lessons). Initial research using this methodology (Stern 2007b)
was reported in one of the seminars, and participants in the seminar then
became research participants themselves, which led to a subsequent report
as a complete project (Stern 2010).
A second key insight from Stern's research concerned the relationship
between research and professional practice. The research `virtue' of sincerity
was established as central to gaining an understanding of schools and of
research. This insight was developed with participants in the earliest of
the seminars, and initially reported in 2006, and later developed more
fully in 2007 — leading to work at specialist international conferences on
the virtue and value of practice-based research, organised in 2011 and
2012 (and reported in Stern 2013b).
References to the research
1. Johnson, C and Stern, L J (2005) `Westhill Seminar 6: Ethnography,
Pluralism and Religious Education', Resource, 28:1 Autumn 2005, pp
2. Stern, L J (2006) Teaching Religious Education: Researchers in the
Classroom. London: Continuum.
3. Stern, L J (2007) Schools and Religions: Imagining the Real.
4. Stern, L J (2010) `Research as Pedagogy: Building Learning Communities
and Religious Understanding in RE', British Journal of Religious
Education, 32:2, March 2010, pp 133-146.
5. Stern, L J (2013a) `The Influence of Research Within Religious
Education: The Westhill Seminars, RE Professionals, Pupils and Schools', British
Journal of Religious Education, p 1-21, 2013.
6. Stern, L J (2013b) `Virtue and Value in Educational Research', chapter
10, in Arthur, J and Lovat, T (eds) (2013) The Routledge International
Handbook of Education, Religion and Values; Abingdon, Oxfordshire:
Routledge, pp 114-123.
There are two significant textbooks included here. Item 2 was written for
school teachers and those undertaking teacher education programmes in
religious education, and funding was provided by the Westhill Endowment
Trust to provide the book to all new teachers of religious education in
the UK for up to three years after publication. Item 3 was written as an
academic text for those working at Master's and doctoral level in
religious education, and that was submitted to the RAE 2008. These two
presented the initial research, which has produced a number of other
Items 4 and 5 are peer-reviewed journal articles, with item 4 submitted
in REF 2014 and item 5 presenting an extended account of the research on
impact presented in this case study.
The further outputs building on the earlier research (i.e. items 2 and 3)
include ongoing projects which have been reported at later dates (as in
Details of the impact
Impact on professionals
The influence of the seminars on professionals (evidenced by
questionnaires) was perceived by respondents as being mostly on the way
they teach (88% agree/strongly agree that `seminars changed for the better
the way I teach'), and their confidence in teaching (85% agree/strongly
agree). Somewhat surprisingly, not far behind was the influence of
publications from the seminars, with 78% agreeing/strongly agreeing that
those `changed the way I teach', and 75% saying the publications
`increased my confidence'. There was much less perceived influence of the
seminars on the participants' status (21% agreed/strongly agreed) or
careers (20% said the seminars `encouraged me to apply for or take up a
more senior post'), than on professional practice. One respondent was
`inspired ... to write an article for publication' and `I used the
information in a staff meeting to encourage more creativity and a cross
curricular approach to RE'.
The importance of the publications was the most surprising outcome of
this aspect of the research, as evidenced by a review of the book
reporting on the first series of seminars:
This book shows that all teachers can be actively engaged in research
practice in RE. I have become more aware of the significance of the
small-scale research that I have been developing over many years, and the
book has reminded me of the importance of being, and remaining, a
reflective practitioner. (Review of Stern 2006 in REsource: The
Journal of the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education,
29:3: Summer 2007, p 20-21.)
Impact on pupils and on schools
Over 20 000 pupils were taught religious education by seminar
participants during the year of the seminar, and the religious education
of over 1 000 000 pupils was the responsibility of seminar participants
who were advisors and (through teacher education programmes) lecturers in
higher education. The remarkable reach of the potential impact, as
reported here, covers much of England and Scotland and parts of Wales.
The greatest perceived impact on pupils, as reported by their teachers,
was on their learning (74% agree/strongly agree) and their `interest ...
in RE' (72% agree/strongly agree). There was also some significant
perceived impact on pupils being `confident in the value of RE' (58%
agree/strongly agree) and `doing more research and other forms of
independent learning' (42% agree/strongly agree). One respondent (based in
higher education) said that `after the creativity seminars I have
introduced some new ideas for linking art in my sessions and the students
have been very positive about trying out some ideas with their pupils in
schools'. A primary teacher explained:
I have been teaching RE to year 5 and year 2 children at one school I
supply to. The seminar has changed the way I approach RE and the enjoyment
for the children is brilliant to watch.
The confidence of respondents in the impact of the seminars (and
therefore the research) on pupils is noteworthy. There is also some
evidence of impact on schools. It was thought somewhat `easier to defend
or expand the role of RE in the curriculum' (51% agree/strongly agree),
and religious education was thought to have a `higher status' by 33% of
respondents, and research seminars were `more popular or better supported'
in schools according to 30%. As one respondent said, the `popularity and
public profile that the Westhill seminars have achieved' has had `an
indirect impact on schools and pupils — but a real one I think'.
Why the seminars were influential
Most important of the reasons given for the seminars' impact was `new
ideas about teaching RE (88% agree/strongly agree) and `time to think
about RE with others who were interested in RE' (83% agree/strongly
agree). The seminars meant participants were `able to share ideas with
other participants' (80% agree/strongly agree), and so could discover more
about religious education research (72% agree/strongly agree). 65% felt
the impact was through being `able to connect ... research ... to
classroom practice', with 89% of respondents identifying having time to
reflect as very influential or influential. This evidence indicates that
the value of research-informed thinking and discussion, having `time to
think about courses I run and evaluate new approaches with other advisors
and teachers', overrides simply receiving information about research.
Overall, the seminar series was an effective way of generating impact
from the research programme, with the more surprising responses including
the significance of publications, the confidence with which the seminars
were thought to influence school pupils, and the perceived significance of
the importance of time to reflect and engaging in discussion, more than
the specific presentations.
Sources to corroborate the impact
Participants in the seminars, reported in section 4, were all external to
the submitted HEI. The report of the research on influence is itself
published in a peer-reviewed international research journal (Stern 2013a,
Reviews of and references to Stern 2006:
Dyson, J, Still, L and Clinton, C (2007) Review of Julian Stern's
`Teaching Religious Education', REsource: The Journal of the National
Association of Teachers of Religious Education, 29:3, Summer 2007, p
Review in the PAT (Professional Association of Teachers) magazine
(April 2007, p 18).
Review in the Journal of Beliefs & Values, 28:2, August 2007,
pp 223-224, by Hugo Whately, King's College London.
Review in the British Journal of Religious Education, 30:1,
January 2008, pp 83-85, by Nigel Fancourt.
Rudge, L (2007) Using Research in Religious Education to Develop
Reflective Practice; http://re-net.ac.uk/attachments/cd9df337-55104e99-9611-5c2706b3190b.pdf.
(Several references to Stern 2006.)
Walters, R (2009) Religious Education and Pedagogy; http://re-net.ac.uk/ViewArticle2.aspx?Keyword=linda+rudge&SearchOption=And&SearchType=Keyword&RefineExpand=1&ContentId=15759.
(Details on the use and influence of one of the seminars at which Stern
was also a presenter.)
Barnes, L P (ed) (2012) Debates in Religious Education; London:
Individual contacts for corroboration:
RE Today Adviser and NATRE Executive Member, Christian Education — he was
present at many of the Westhill Seminars, and is the professional lead for
the National Association for Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE).
HMI, Subject Specialist Adviser: Religious Education — he was present at
one of the seminars and, for Ofsted, leads on inspection of religious
Head of RE, Aston Comprehensive School, Aughton Road, Swallownest,
Sheffield S26 4SF — he was present at one or two of the seminars, and is a
teacher who is influenced by and active in research.