RE at Edge Hill

Tag: Spirituality

BA (Hons) Education & Religion – The Island

Today we started teaching on our new BA (Hons) Education and Religion! Using Sue Philips’ ‘Theatre of Learning’, the group experienced being stranded on a desert island after a plane crash (inspired by Lost!) and had to work in their tribes to consider and create rites of passage, sacred places, sacred texts and guidelines to live by. An experiential start to the course!


The Theatre of Learning

Hollie wrote this about the recent visit of Sue Phillips to Edge Hill, where she worked with Undergraduate and Postgraduate students:

My biggest fear in the classroom is having a class full of pupils and they do not listen to me. I fear they will not be engaged in the lesson I am teaching them, that it will not be interesting enough for them.

When I think back on my Religious Education lessons at school, my teacher made the lessons interesting- but it was only ever using videos or conversations in the classroom. Her personality was amazing and she was meant to be a teacher- she was my inspiration. However, from what I can remember about my lessons, we never did anything crazy, fun, whacky or out of the ordinary.

This year of University has taught me how to be a better teacher, using different ways of teaching the students to keep them engaged and interested in the lesson.

Sue Phillips came to University last week and told us ways on how to make an RE lesson more interactive, keeping the students involved in the lesson, making them feel apart of it.

Most of the things she taught was about using stories, keeping them involved. You make a story, tell it to the class, keeping them engaged and guessing as to what is going to happen next- and I have to say I love this idea! You can use it in so many different ways, and you adapt it to RE topics.

For example, you could a story about a young girl making decisions that people around do not necessarily agree with, linking to the idea of morals and morals in religion, with another connection to rules in religion and why religions have rules they follow. This links to their central beliefs in the religion.

Sue really helped me with ways to help the older students in the school by giving ideas on how to keep essay writing creative and fun too! It was more to do with the layout of the structure creating more discussion rather than a template on a piece of paper.

She not only gave me a lot of ideas that I can use for teaching when I start my placement in April, but I have recently created a Scheme of Work in a group for Judaism to teach a class of Year 8 pupils next week. With these different ways of teaching, making the classroom more interactive, I have incoroporated some of these ideas into one of the lessons to make it more fun and interesting for the students.

Every week, with books I read and visits to places or people to university, it makes me more confident about becoming a teacher. I cannot wait to start my placement next month!

Three Days in the Theatre of Learning

Having spent two days with us last year, an old friend of Edge Hill, Sue Phillips, spent three days with us to showcase her approach to experiential learning: one day with secondary Undergraduates, one day with PGCE and one day with Primary students.

Sue has developed the ‘Theatre of Learning’ pedagogy. This began with an understanding of religion neutral exercises, the most well known being the Island.  Sue then encouraged us to apply that thinking to a number of different religions, including stories as diverse as cosmology and homelessness.  Many of the activities were participatory and the students from all three cohorts were able to engage and relate to the pedagogy in a visceral way.

Feedback from the students was stunning and they are eager to implement some of these ideas on their Professional Placements in the near future.  Photos from Sue’s visit can be seen here.

“An Enlightening Trip”, or how to live a happy, fulfilling, meaningful life

RE PGCE Trainee Marianne Howe reports back on her groups experiences at the Triratna Buddhist centre in Manchester:

On the 16th of October, the secondary RE PGCE group was given the opportunity to visit Manchester Buddhist centre. The day began at University with a Buddhist subject knowledge enhancement course led by our course leader Francis Farrell. This provided us with an in depth theoretical knowledge of Buddhist Dharma.

We started the session with a fun game entitled ‘What would make you happy?’ This engaged our curiosity and brought to the fore central themes which lie at the heart of Buddhist dharma. Questions such as would money and material wealth make you happy as opposed to the spiritual wealth of love and ‘peace of mind’ was raised. Distinctions between what exactly we mean by happiness started to form and stimulated rich philosophical debate and insight. In particular distinctions between ‘quick fix’ and fleeting feelings of happiness were discussed as opposed to more fulfilling and everlasting feelings of happiness.


Throughout this session, Francis provided us with an in depth knowledge and understanding of the basic teachings of Buddhism, which was explored through the lens of the original Buddha- Siddhartha Gautama. We discovered that the original Buddha primarily concerned himself with one of life’s ultimate questions- what is the meaning and purpose of life? Throughout the session it became clear that Gautama’s quest involved deep exploration and meditative insights into concepts such as happiness, virtue and what it means to lead a good, happy and fulfilling life.

Our new knowledge and wisdom gained from this session was brought alive when we visited the Manchester Buddhist Centre in the afternoon. Situated in the lively and bustling Northern quarter of Manchester, the centre itself had a calming and tranquil feel. Upon entering the building, it was hard not to notice the three jewels or refuges of Buddhism which caught your eye instantly. Consisting of the Buddha (the enlightened one), Dharma (the teachings) and Sangha (the spiritual community), it was hard not to feel the presence of these three Buddhist treasures upon entering the centre for the very first time.

Beautiful golden statues of the Buddha surrounded us (reminding us of the enlightened one and his teachings). The sense of community was also clearly felt. Before beginning our tour we had a spot of lunch in the centres earth café, situated in the basement of the building. The earth café provided a relaxing and comfortable atmosphere to refuel/recharge our minds and bodies before we began the official tour of the centre.

After lunch we made our way to the main entrance, and received a warm welcome by our tour guide, Garavachitta who is an ordained Buddhist of the Triratna order. Garavachitta informed us that the meaning behind his name refers to one whose mind has turned to reverence. Surprisingly Garavachitta was not dressed in the usual monastic orange robes you would expect a Buddhist to wear. Instead he was dressed in ordinary clothes- reflecting the centre’s modern, friendly and informal approach to Buddhist teaching. Bringing the ancient and mystical traditions of Buddhist dharma alive to the Western modern world.

After explaining to us the history of the building (the centre was once an old Victorian workhouse) and the various meditation classes/courses which are on offer at the center, we were led up a beautiful spiral wooden staircase to the second floor of the building. On this floor various meditation classes were taking place and we were told to be as quiet as possible. We were led into one of the main meditation rooms of the building and asked to take our shoes off before entering. A beautiful and awe inspiring golden statue of the Buddha awaited us.

Buddha 1

We were asked to take a cushion and sit on the floor facing the beautiful shrine to the enlightened one or Buddha. Here we got the chance to find out more about Buddhist dharma and to also hear Garavachitta’s story/background- learning about and from religion. We were able to explore and experience first-hand. Buddhist dharma in an open and non-dogmatic way. The session ended with a calming mediation led by Garavachitta. This was a wonderful opportunity to experience Buddhist meditative practice and fully absorb/assimilate our previous learning & knowledge. After our mediation we had the chance to do a spot of shopping and browse all things ‘Buddha’ in the centre’s shop- from books to incense sticks, and mini Buddha statues.

This informative and enlightening trip provided us with deep subject knowledge of Buddhism- it awakened our consciousness & awareness of Buddhism and provided invaluable ideas/resources to bring the RE classroom alive!  On a personal note, Buddhism for me has truths that speak to everyone irrespective of religious persuasions or not. The truths and insights offered by this religion are ones that I can not only value but also carry with me on my own journey of personal development, insight and awareness of how to live a happy, fulfilling and meaningful life.

Two days on ‘The Island’

Sue Phillips once again visited Edge Hill to show us how to teach RE using the ‘Theatre of Learning’ pedagogy which she has developed.  This year Sue was able to send two days with us, spending a day with PGCE students and a day with final year Undergraduates.

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Both days followed a similar format, beginning with students spending time being introduced to ‘The Island’ the groundbreaking introduction to religious education invented by Sue and used by many schools throughout the country.  This was followed by an investigation of how religion-neutral exercised can provide a meaningful way into deep religious understanding for many students.

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Sue was able to show how each of the major world faiths can be taught using this methodology, ensuring concepts are understood by pupils. The students were hugely impressed with all they saw and experienced:

“It was one of the best sessions we have had at Edge Hill” – Matt

“A fantastic Experience” – Rachel


Spiritual Development

Developing pupils’ spiritual literacy is key to outstanding RE teaching.

“The school’s thoughtful and wide-ranging promotion of pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural
development and their physical wellbeing enables them to thrive in a supportive, highly cohesive learning
community.” Ofsted: Descriptor of outstanding overall effectiveness (January 2014)

Year 2 Undergraduate students spent a morning with Emma McVittie in order to help them be able to plan for Spiritual Development during their school placements.  Emma is a member of the Executive Committee for the International Association of Children’s Spirituality and has written widely in the field.

Sprituality (3)

Students first worked to define spirituality and were introduced to a model with four ‘dimensions’

  • Looking Within: Concerned with personal spirituality and inner-thoughts.
  • Looking to Others: Thinking about the social and moral aspect of spirituality and the influence on relationships.
  • Looking Around: The world around us and how this can instil, influence and spark our spirituality.
  • Looking Beyond: The transcendental aspect of spirituality. Looking beyond ourselves and linking spirituality and religion.

Sprituality (2)

The session became more experiential with students using some resources from the ME! resource which Emma has created and uses in schools. After a break students used the gardens at Edge Hill to work in pairs to be human cameras, taking pictures of big and little wows.    Finally back in the classroom more active learning techniques for developing pupils’ spiritual literacy were demonstrated and tried out by the students.

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 I thought it was a great. Loads of different teaching techniques for the classroom and a great way of showing how spirituality can exist both within and externally to religion – Sarah

Sprituality (1)


If you go down to the woods today…


As part of the launch of the PGCE Primary programme, the trainees took part in workshops that gave them a taster of creative ways to teach the foundation subjects. A group of 60 students took part in exploring Sacred Spaces by considering the work of Eliade (1987) and Turkle (2011) where objects become evocative or sacred because of the meaning that people attach to them.

In groups they explored Ruff woods and considered how to make it meaningful and then created a sacred/meaningful space which could be used for reflection, worship, ritual or simply silence. Here are some of the spaces

sacred space sacred 2sacred 3sacred 4

A Day in the Theatre of Learning

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Sue Phillips visited Edge Hill university to invite PGCE and Final Year KS2/3 Undergrauate students to spend a day in the Theatre of Learning.  Sue has pioneered this exciting and experiential form of RE over the past few years and was delighted to share her pedagogy with the students.

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Students were shown the famous ‘Island’, and a variety of religion neutral exercised.  Evaluation, spirituality, assessment, and even quantum physics all featured in the day, whilst the session ended withstudents being invited to don bin bags and empathise with the experience of a homeless person.

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Students were inspired by this day and are eager to put Sue’s ideas into practice on their final teaching practice.



Islam and Spirituality at the Network Meeting

Almost a dozen Mentors, Lecturers and consultants were able to attend the RE Subject Network’s recent twilight session held at Byrchall High School.

We were privileged to have the input of Emma Mcvittie who explained how her ME! resource was helping pupils develop spiritual literacy in both primary and secondary settings nationwide.  This was followed by a general discussion of good practice from around the partnership led by Gill Robinson of Rose Bridge High School.

Waqaus Ali spoke to us about the work of ThinkBrite Services who can lead Inset for staff, provide visitors to schools or create a tailored day visiting a local Mosque.  Edge Hill Students have benefited from Waqaus’ expertise for many years.

Gill concluded the evening with some national updates, around many issues including the RE Council’s consultation report on the proposed New National RE Framework.  It was a while before people left, though, as people spent time with our visitors exploring the possibility of doing further work together.

The date of the next twilight is provisionally set for  28th February at Rose Bridge High School.

Year 2 Undergraduates get Spiritual

Year 2 Undergraduates welcomed Emma McVittie to Edge Hill to lead a session on planning for Spiritual Development.

Emma is an independent RE Consultant and the Primary Leader for REonline. Her passion for improving educational standards led her to become a teacher educator, advisor and speaker where she enjoys having a larger influence in educating people about R.E.’s place in the 21st century.  Her whole career has been spent within primary education and she has taught in a range of settings including: Pupil Referral Unit, special schools and small, rural, mixed key stage schools through to large urban schools with many hundreds of pupils. Emma has an international reputation and speaks, on all aspects of RE from school development to staff motivation using a variety of modern, innovative, and creative methods that will enthuse staff and children alike

Emma spoke about some of the theoretical background to Spirituality in Children before using some of the resources from her ME! resource to enable the students to learn experientially.

All the students reported that the session was superb and gave them an insight into spiritual development as well as practical ideas which they hope to use in their school placements after Christmas.

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