Target grades – a round up of research & blogs


Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much research on using target grades with students in terms on their impact on attainment, progress or motivation. Yet, there is a growing consensus amongst many teachers that they either have no impact (and are thus a waste of time) or could have a negative impact.

Some have pulled together ideas using some of the research that may link to using grades so I’ve pulled them together here for ease of reference and some possible further reading.

As usual please let me know of any that I’ve missed.

James Theobald –

Dawn Cox –

Ben Newmark in the TES –


Possible research links

Martinez, Paul, Great Britain. Learning and Skills Development Agency, corp creator. (2001) Great expectations: setting targets for students, 2nd ed.

Butler, R.  “Enhancing and Undermining Intrinsic Motivation: The Effects of Task-Involving and Ego-Involving Evaluation on Interest and Performance.”  British Journal of Educational Psychology 58 (1988): 1-14.

Butler, R., and M. Nisan.  “Effects of No Feedback, Task-Related Comments, and Grades on Intrinsic Motivation and Performance.”  Journal of Educational Psychology 78 (1986): 210-16.

Harter, S. (1978). Effectance motivation reconsidered: Toward a developmental model. Human Development, 21(1), 34-64.

Seijts, Gerard & Latham, Gary. (2005). Learning versus performance goals: When should each be used?. Academy of Management Perspectives. 19. 124-131. 10.5465/AME.2005.15841964.

Ames, C., & Archer, J. (1988). Achievement goals in the classroom: Students learning strategies and motivational processes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80(3), 260–267.

Gorard, Stephen. (2005). “They Don’t Give Us Our Marks”: The Role of Formative Feedback in Student Progress. Assessment in Education Principles Policy and Practice.’t_Give_Us_Our_Marks_The_Role_of_Formative_Feedback_in_Student_Progress




Curriculum building in RE


“I’m rewriting our key stage 3 schemes. What would be your favourite topics to teach?”

This, or similar, is quite common on RE Facebook. People have some time and opportunity to review or rewrite their key stage 3 provision so are looking for some inspiration of what to include.

I have no problem people sharing and discussing what they teach but we must have a clear rationale ourselves, for what we believe to be ‘good’ RE and why we include it in our curriculum. There are also things we must follow such as a syllabus.

So what should we include? We can’t teach the whole domain of religion and belief so we need to make some important decisions. This blog is a short introduction of the kinds of things to consider. It’s the start of curricular thinking, not a step by step guide.

In my opinion there are some better rationales for what makes the cut in RE than others. I’ll start with those that aren’t great rationales (all my opinion)….

  • Choosing ‘fun’ or ‘engaging’ topics
  • Topics to try to make students choose GCSE as an option
  • Asking students what topics they want to learn about
  • Avoiding teaching ‘dry’ or ‘boring’ topics
  • Starting the GCSE content as per a specification
  • What another school is doing
  • Avoiding religion  e.g. because it’s not relevant to atheist/non-religious students

There are different reasons why I believe these aren’t great. I don’t have space here but am happy to expand elsewhere if people are interested. 

Instead we need to think carefully about building a coherent, curriculum that is intrinsically valuable in itself and which provides a firm foundation for any further study. And if students don’t go on to further study, it teaches the core elements that might help them continue to understand the world around them.

1. Following the agreed syllabus

There seems to be a misunderstanding by some that as we’re not national curriculum and if you’re an academy you can do whatever you want. This isn’t 100% true.

It doesn’t matter what type of (state) school you are, you have a syllabus to follow; even academies. Whilst academies can choose which syllabus this is, it needs to be followed. You can even write your own syllabus (check legal requirements – I’m sure a scheme of work would not cut the mustard on this) but the legal requirement is that what you teach reflects ‘religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian whilst taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain.’ (Education act 1996). You can’t avoid Christianity!

So, your first point of call must be the syllabus that you are following, rather than asking what other people do. They are likely to be following a different syllabus.

2. Systematic vs thematic

Systematic (by religion/belief) needs careful thought of what it is about that religion that we want students to know. We can’t teach everything so what to choose? I believe we should teach core foundational knowledge with which a student could go on to independently study that religion; they have learnt the basics so they can add to their schema. A whistle stop tour of ‘the founder, the holy building, the holy book, the festivals, the clothing, the worship’…..etc potentially gives a superficial overview of a religion. Instead I prefer to focus on the keys that unlock significant  further understanding, mostly beliefs, that can then easily be used to help understand practices. Teaching practices without beliefs well, would be virtually impossible.

Thematic teaching needs to planned very carefully. You cannot just pluck a topic out of the air (worse still be given a topic e.g it’s a humanities topic of ‘water’) and then wedge in every reference to it in any religion you can find.

The only way that thematic teaching can be done well is when students have a strong foundation of the beliefs that are connected with the theme. Otherwise, it will be superficial. Teaching views on abortion in Christianity without any understanding of sanctity of life, creation, the soul etc just becomes learning different views as facts in themselves e.g. ‘Catholic Christians think…..Other  Christians think….’, rather than having a deep understanding of beliefs and then how these can be the foundations of moral and ethical decision making. Before you plan a thematic unit, think carefully if your students have the core understanding to be able to look it the topic from a multiple perspectives or how the teaching of this will be part of the thematic unit.

3. The golden threads

This is where ‘block planning’ (planning disconnected termly topics) can stop a curriculum from being coherent. We need to consider what are the connections between each topic? The threads that we come back to and repeat, from a slightly different angle.

We need to think really carefully about what it is that connects what we’re teaching so that our curriculum is a journey (sorry I really hate that term – especially when it’s turned into a curriculum infographic) through the study of religion and belief. 

One way of doing this in RE is by concept. There are 3 main categories of concept: those relevant to all humans, those that go across religion/beliefs and those specific to a religion/belief. The 1st/2nd types could be used as our golden threads. For example, the concept of ‘truth’ can be explored across topics. Coming back to this concept in several topics gives a type of spiral curriculum where students are expanding their domain each time it is revisited.

Think carefully, what are your golden threads that your curriculum keeps coming back to?

4. The disciplines of RE

I’ve blogged on these here. It is essential that we think carefully about how the disciplines provide the skeleton to our curriculum. Without them we can fall into the trap of teaching PSHE or citizenship in RE or losing the ‘balance’ of what makes multi-disciplinary RE.

It’s all coming together – An introduction to the disciplines of RE


In the past couple of years I’ve been reading and thinking more about disciplinary knowledge (alongside substantive knowledge – the ‘stuff’ that we teach, e.g. beliefs, teachings, practices etc). As with many things, it started by hearing about what other subjects are doing and what it means in different subjects. So what does it mean for the RE community? What has already been said and done in RE?

It’s all coming together, in several ways:

  • More of the RE community getting involved in discussions about the curriculum on social media & beyond
  • The disciplines of RE are being written about, discussed & used in curriculum planning
  • My thinking is coming together. I’m a pragmatist and I want to envisage what this looks like for RE teachers and HODs.
  • This blog is bringing together some of the blogs, articles & thinking on the disciplines in RE, which I hope is useful for those that also want to engage with what has been written and modelled.

This blog is for novices. It’s aim is to help those that have no knowledge about the disciplines in RE to start to think about what they are and what they might mean for their own practice. There will probably be more blogs….

So what does disciplinary knowledge mean in RE?

In simple terms disciplinary knowledge is the knowledge that comes from how RE ‘works’. If we were to look at those who study RE at an academic level, it is the ways that they work within their discipline and the ‘ways of knowing’.

The problem is that RE isn’t an subject or discipline by itself at academic levels. It has been suggested that RE is therefore multidisciplinary; it is made from different disciplines.

There are discussions about what the main disciplines in RE are. Many have decided on three: Theology, Philosophy and Human/Social sciences (see  ‘Balanced RE’ & the Norfolk Agreed syllabus). Some have included History (see Richard Kueh in ‘Reforming RE’) and some are suggesting that RS is a discipline.

Why is disciplinary knowledge important?

Looking at RE through the disciplines helps to structure what is learnt in RE. It helps us and our students to discuss the ways in which we can learn in RE. Sometimes RE is conflated with other subjects such as PSHE or citizenship, but when we view RE as it’s own subject, through the disciplines, it can help to differentiate them.

It can help us structure how we approach and discuss substantive knowledge in RE. Instead of teaching students that ‘anything goes’ and ‘all answers are right in RE’ it gives them a set of tools that they can use to look at an issue or a concept and critically engage with it, in a disciplined way.  It helps students to understand where knowledge has come from and how valid the claims are that it makes.

So for RE, if we take a ‘theological’ disciplinary approach, we will look at a topic/concept through a theological ‘lens’. For philosophy, a philosophical ‘lens’ and so on. The ‘Balanced RE’ documents and the Norfolk agreed syllabus have clear suggestions of what these approaches might look like and the ‘tools’ that students can develop using to engage

What does it mean for RE?

If we consider the disciplines when designing our curriculum we are providing a skeleton for our subject; a strong underpinning structure. This means it cannot be confused with other subjects and makes it it’s own subject, which some curriculum leaders need to understand.

Some have started to provide frameworks for doing this. The RE-searchers approach is designed for primary students but could easily be adapted for secondary. The ‘Big Ideas’ model has supporting documents that helps to realise what it looks like in the classroom.

What should I do now?

There’s no ‘right’ answer here. I suggest you read some of the recommended reading below first.  Richard Kueh’s article in REtoday gives a nice introduction to the thinking behind the disciplines, The ‘Balanced RE’ video would be a nice intro to what the disciplines are and how they work and the Norfolk agreed syllabus gives a possible approach. EDIT 8/6/20 : I’ve just read Paddy Winter’s Farmington paper on ‘Professional Disciplinary Dialogue’. It is a brilliant exposition of the issues and resources on the disciplines in RE.

If you want to review your curriculum approach to see what you’re already doing, I really recommend the ‘Balanced RE’ primary and secondary audit tools.

Look on RE social media for examples of what others have been doing. For example, #TeamRE, @TeamRE and the SAVE RE Facebook group. I know people have shared their curriculum ideas.

Whatever you do, I think that the best way to approach anything that is ‘your’s e.g. your curriculum, is not to just copy what someone else is doing. It’s the foundational thinking behind it that matters.

Join in with the conversation; it’s one of the best ways to help clarify thinking and ask questions.

Reflective questions….

  • How can we prevent superficiality (a tick list approach to the disciplines) and encourage deep thinking?
  • What can we do to help curriculum leaders in schools understand how RE ‘works’?
  • How can the disciplines help us distance from PSHE/Citizenship?
  • Are we already including disciplinarity in our curriculum/lessons? How do we know? If so, do we need to emphasise the disciplines more to the students?
  • Should we use a framework e.g. RE-searchers, of teaching the disciplines across key stages or should it be fluid?
  • What does a focus on the disciplines mean for ITE courses?
  • How might teacher CPD reflect this shift/refocus?

A huge thanks to everyone on social media, face-to-face, ‘virtually’ and on the old system of telephone, that have answered my silly questions and helped to develop my thinking. You know who you are. There’s a long way to go.

References & Reading

Paddy Winter – Farmington TT428: Professional Disciplinary Dialogue by Paddy Winter (Contact Farmington to access)

Norfolk Agreed Syllabus 2019 Norfolk Agreed Syllabus

A discussion about the new Norfolk Agreed Syllabus – Questions by Paul Smalley (NASACRE) and answers by Kathryn Wright. Here

A Smith – Blog– Disciplinary Knowledge and RE: an attempt at professional wrestling

Kueh, R. (2019) ‘‘A Matter of Discipline?’ On knowledge, curriculum and the disciplinary in RE’ (Professional Reflection, REToday, September 2019).

Models using the disciplines

The RE-searchers approach

Big Ideas for Religious Education– Barbara Wintersgill

Putting Big Ideas into Practice in Religious Education By Barbara Wintersgill with Denise Cush & Dave Francis

‘Balanced RE’ documents


Key principles of a balanced curriculum in RE – Church of England Education office

Balanced RE website

 Balanced RE video

RE in a broad and balanced curriculum: A practical tool

Self evaluation/audit – Primary

Self evaluation/audit – Secondary 

Book chapters

Kueh, R. (2017). Religious education and the ‘knowledge problem’. In M. Castelli & M
Chater (Eds) We need to talk about RE: Manifestos for the future of religious education
(pp.53-69). London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Mark Chater (2020) , Reforming RE: Power and knowledge in a worldviews curriculum John Catt. Suggested chapters….

  • Richard Kueh – Disciplinary hearing: making the case for the disciplinary in Religion and Worldviews
  • Gillian Georgios & Kathryn Wright – Disciplinarity, religions and worldviews: making a case for theology, philosophy and human/social sciences

NB. I am aware the featured image does not include all religions