Religious Education A Local Curriculum Framework (1991)

Background notes

The complete document is shown in this single web page. You can scroll through it or use the following links to go to the various sections.

1 Introduction (1)
2 The Education Reform Act 1988 (3)
3 The National Curriculum framework (5)
4 Curriculum design in National Curriculum subjects (7-9)
5 Applying the National Curriculum framework to RE (11-14)
6 Using attainment targets and programmes of study to develop a curriculum plan (15)
Appendix: INSET tasks for working groups (16-17)
References (18)

The text of Religious Education A Local Curriculum Framework was prepared by Derek Gillard and uploaded on 15 December 2012.

Religious Education
A Local Curriculum Framework

National Curriculum Council
York: 1991

[title page]


[page ii]

The National Curriculum Council is grateful to Patrick Hannibal and Michael Grimmitt for their help in the preparation of this document.

ISBN: 1 872676 59 6
First published 1991
Copyright 1991 National Curriculum Council

Reproduction, storage, adaptation or translation in any form or by any means of this publication is prohibited without prior written permission of the publisher, or within the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency. Excerpts may be reproduced for the purposes of research, private study, criticism or review, or by educational institutions solely for educational purposes without permission providing full acknowledgement is given.

Printed in Great Britain

The National Curriculum Council is an exempt charity under the Charities Act 1960.

National Curriculum Council, Albion Wharf, 25 Skeldergate, York YO1 2XL

Chairman and Chief Executive: Duncan G Graham CBE MA

[page iii]



1 Introduction

2 The Education Reform Act 1988

3 The National Curriculum framework

4 Curriculum design in National Curriculum subjects

5 Applying the National Curriculum framework to Religious Education

6 Using attainment targets and programmes of study to develop a curriculum plan

Appendix: INSET tasks for working groups


[page v]


NCC's first analysis of SACRE Reports, published in March 1991, was widely welcomed. The present publication offers advice to SACREs, agreed syllabus conferences and LEAs who are considering whether to use the National Curriculum framework of attainment targets and programmes of study for religious education (RE). I hope that it will contribute to the effective implementation of RE as part of the basic curriculum for all schools.

Duncan G Graham CBE MA
Chairman and Chief Executive, National Curriculum Council

July 1991

[page 1]


NCC has a responsibility to offer advice to SACREs, agreed syllabus conferences, and LEAs who wish to consider the desirability of drawing up attainment targets and programmes of study for religious education in their authority, and to offer advice on their construction. (DES Circular 3/89: The Education Reform Act 1988 - Religious Education and Collective Worship, DES, 1989). This publication is intended to fulfil this requirement.

It takes the form of:

  • an outline of provisions of the Education Reform Act 1988 (ERA)
  • a short description of the National Curriculum framework
  • guidance on the issues to be considered when writing attainment targets, statements of attainment and programmes of study
  • advice on applying a National Curriculum framework to RE
  • advice on planning the RE curriculum
  • tasks for groups working on a National Curriculum framework for RE.

Circular 3/89, which offers guidance on the provision of RE, emphasises the special status of the subject as part of the basic curriculum. It affirms that RE has equal standing with National Curriculum subjects, but is not subject to nationally prescribed curriculum arrangements. This recognises the importance of local circumstances in determining the RE curriculum. The development of agreed syllabuses for RE, and the form in which they are expressed (through attainment targets and programmes of study or otherwise) is a matter for local determination by the SACRE or by a conference set up to review the agreed syllabus. Voluntary schools are likely to consider similar issues.

[page 3]


The changes introduced by ERA reflect the Government's commitment to strengthen RE in the curriculum. Section 1 of the act requires LEAs, governing bodies and head teachers to ensure that the curriculum of each maintained school is balanced and broadly based. It should:

  • promote the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils
  • prepare pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life
  • include RE for all registered pupils, including those in Years 12 and 13
  • include the National Curriculum for all pupils of compulsory school age.

[page 5]


The 1988 Education Reform Act requires that attainment targets and programmes of study should be drawn up for National Curriculum subjects.

Attainment targets are defined as "the knowledge, skills and understanding which pupils of different abilities and maturities are expected to have by the end of each key stage". They are the objectives or goals setting out what pupils should know and understand at each stage of their compulsory education, and are used as a basis for assessment of National Curriculum subjects.

Within each attainment target, attainment is generally specified in ten levels. Each level is defined by more precise objectives which are called statements of attainment.

Programmes of study are the "matters, skills and processes which are required to be taught to pupils of different abilities and maturities during each key stage".

The period of compulsory education 5-16 has been divided into four key stages. The relationship between age groups, key stages and the levels of attainment appropriate to assessment at the end of each key stage is generally as follows:

Key Stage1234

*The relation between levels and ages varies slightly from subject to subject.

[page 7]


Attainment targets and programmes of study are not of the same kind for all subjects. In part, these differences reflect the distinctive nature of individual subjects.

Science and geography have most of their attainment targets based on areas of content. Attainment targets in other National Curriculum subjects lay a greater emphasis on skills and processes.

English, for example, has five attainment targets:

  • speaking and listening
  • reading
  • writing
  • spelling
  • handwriting.
(Spelling and handwriting merge at Level 5 to become presentation.)

History has three attainment targets:

  • knowledge and understanding of history (this attainment target has three strands which require different aspects of knowing and understanding)
  • interpretations of history
  • the use of historical sources.

What are the principles for constructing attainment targets?

The following principles for constructing attainment targets are recommended by NCC.

  • A small number of attainment targets makes planning and assessment simpler.
  • The terminology used to describe them should be intelligible to non-specialists, parents and governors.
  • Their titles should be short and should include a word describing an area of competence, such as 'interpret', 'know', 'understand', 'apply' or 'evaluate',
  • Each one should make only one requirement of pupils unless an attainment target contains more than one strand.
  • Each one could be introduced by words which show its relationship to the programmes of study, eg 'demonstrating their knowledge of the content in the programmes of study, pupils should be able to ...'
  • They should be so framed as to be accessible to as many pupils as possible.

[page 8]

How many statements of attainment should there be for each attainment target?

In most National Curriculum subjects, attainment targets have ten levels defined by statements which are specific to stages of development. These are called statements of attainment. By contrast, proposed attainment targets in art and music have clusters of statements relating to the end of each key stage. In the attempts made so far to construct attainment targets for RE, there are examples of both structures.

Two of the possibilities considered by groups working on attainment in RE are given below.

  • Statements of attainment at ten levels not linked to key stages. These enable teachers to estimate progress with accuracy, and acknowledge that ability is not always related to age. Further levels may be included to reflect the fact that RE must be studied by pupils in sixth-form education,
  • A cluster of statements of attainments, all at the same level for the end of each key stage. This enables the objectives to apply to a particular age group. The disadvantage is that pupils are not given the opportunity to show higher attainment than that specified for their key stage. Neither are there criteria for assessing accurately the attainment of pupils who do not reach the specified level for their key stage.

How can statements of attainment demonstrate progression?

The following principles may be helpful in writing statements of attainment.

  • The language used should be clear and simple.
  • Each statement should make only one requirement.
  • Each one should be progressively more demanding in terms of what pupils know, understand and can do.
  • Each should require a comparable standard to those at the same level in other attainment targets and in other subjects.
  • Each should contribute to an improvement in learning standards by setting a realistic but challenging goal.
  • Each should be accompanied by a classroom-based example of how the appropriate level of attainment might be demonstrated:
'pupils should be able to ...'

identify features
explain hidden meanings or importance
demonstrate the relationship between belief and practice
account for diversity
analyse critically evidence
evaluate reasons or arguments.

  • Programmes of study should be written in close association with attainment targets, in order to give relevant examples for statements of attainment.
  • Each statement of attainment should normally begin with a command word.

[page 9]

  • Statements requiring further clarification should be avoided. In none of the following examples is it clear what pupils have to do:
'pupils should be able to ...'

demonstrate ability
show awareness
have an understanding
reflect upon

What is the relationship between attainment targets and programmes of study?

In a National Curriculum subject the programmes of study and attainment targets have statutory force. Neither has meaning without the other. In the case of an agreed syllabus for RE which is based on a similar framework, it is important that both parts of the curriculum are set out. Programmes of study and attainment targets are complementary, the one specifying what should be studied, the other setting required standards of work.

There is no single pattern for programmes of study in National Curriculum subjects. In the Order for English each programme of study is linked to a single attainment target, and specifies the experiences and learning opportunities pupils should have, rather than the content to be taught. In geography, there is a programme of study for each key stage which relates to a range of levels of attainment appropriate to that key stage. In history, each programme of study contains content to be taught at each key stage, and is related to all three attainment targets.

[page 11]


NCC is aware that consideration is being given at local level as to whether or not agreed syllabuses for RE should be framed in the form of attainment targets and programmes of study, and how this might be done. This document gives advice based on NCC's experience in other curriculum areas. The following paragraphs answer questions which have been put to NCC by SACREs and LEA officers. No attempt is made to prescribe attainment targets or programmes of study, nor to offer models since if it is decided to draw up such a framework, it will need to be specific in each case to the local agreed syllabus and the local needs which it is intended to meet.

Should religious education have attainment targets and programmes of study?

SACREs, agreed syllabus conferences and LEAs will need to decide if attainment targets and levels of attainment in RE are appropriate for pupils in schools and sixth-form colleges. They will also need to decide whether attainment targets and programmes of study, should they be devised, are to be mandatory and therefore included in the agreed syllabus. SACREs may wish to offer advice to agreed syllabus conferences and LEAs on this matter.

HMI has in the past been concerned at an over-emphasis on factual knowledge and a neglect of pupils' own spiritual development. They have, moreover, observed that a distinctive subject content is often lacking when RE is combined with humanities or personal and social education.

Carefully structured attainment targets and programmes of study which relate to the local agreed syllabus could be used to:

  • help teachers ensure a balance between learning about religion and personal development
  • help teachers, parents and governors identify what is unique to RE
  • clarify links between RE and National Curriculum subjects
  • improve standards by providing clear objectives which show what pupils are expected to know and understand in RE at different stages
  • give teachers information about pupils' progress in RE so that suitable tasks can be set give information about progress to pupils and their parents
  • enable pupils to see a connection between what they study in RE from one year to the next
  • provide clear criteria which enable the LEA to monitor effectively standards of pupils' work in RE.

[page 12]

What considerations guide the choice of attainment targets in religious education?

Many LEAs are currently working on a new curriculum framework for RE. The first proposals for attainment in RE written after ERA contained ten or more attainment targets based largely on areas of content, such as lifestyle or celebration (see Westhill College, 1988; Association of Religious Education Advisers and Inspectors, 1989). Some agreed syllabus conferences have adopted these, but others are now proposing that content-based attainment targets in RE may give a distorted view of the learning objectives of the subject. They see topics such as celebration as matters to be studied which therefore belong in the programmes of study. They are suggesting instead that a few attainment targets based on processes such as evaluation of religious and moral issues may be more appropriate for RE.

Individual SACRE, conference or LEA working groups adopting the National Curriculum framework should give careful attention to the type of targets they devise.

In considering how attainment targets can be developed for RE, it is important to remember that:

  • there is widespread agreement among SACRE and agreed syllabus conference working groups that attainment targets cannot cover everything that pupils are expected to achieve in RE
  • the subject is often seen as contributing to pupils' development in many ways which cannot easily be measured
  • an area of competence has the same importance when placed in a programme of study as when it is an attainment target.
A large proportion of agreed syllabuses describe two broad areas of attainment in RE. These are that pupils should:
  • understand the teachings and practices of Christianity and other world religions
  • be encouraged to develop their own beliefs and values.
It is by maintaining a balance between these two areas that RE is generally seen as contributing to the spiritual, moral, cultural and intellectual development of pupils. Most proposed attainment targets in RE reflect these two areas of learning.

What is the connection between religious education and religious studies?

SACREs and working groups need to remember that religious studies is generally agreed to be only a part of RE and does not normally require pupils to consider the possible application of religious teachings to their own lives. They should therefore consider carefully the implications of adopting only religious studies attainment targets, and, if this approach is taken, how to cover other aspects of RE.

SEAC is preparing a draft for new national criteria for Religious Studies. These will not be in the form of attainment targets, but are expected to set out two assessment objectives requiring that pupils should be able to demonstrate:

  • knowledge and understanding of:
(a) the key elements of the religion(s) studied
(b) the effect of the religion(s) on the individual and society;

[page 13]

and be able to:

  • evaluate issues that arise from their study of religion.

How much content should be included in programmes of study?

Section 8 (3) of ERA provides that all agreed syllabuses now adopted must "reflect the fact that 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". In its letter of 18 March 1991 to Chief Education Officers (CEOs), DES passed on advice that an agreed syllabus, if it is to comply with the law, should be sufficiently detailed to give clear guidance to teachers as to what is to be taught about Christianity and the other principal religions represented in Great Britain. Whether an agreed syllabus complies with the law should not be tested against such shorthand phrases as "mainly Christian" or "multifaith" because these phrases do not encapsulate all the requirements of the section.

There are two possible options in specifying the content of programmes of study within the agreed syllabus.

  • All of the content to be covered at each key stage is defined. This has the advantage of requiring the same content for all schools following the agreed syllabus, thus facilitating transfer from one school to another. The disadvantage is that it may appear over-prescriptive and allows no room for variation in the time and resources available between one school and another.
  • Some of the content is defined as essential, as in the core units for history. Schools may then have some choice between specified alternatives and also be given the opportunity to develop the treatment of themes specified in the agreed syllabus in a way which is relevant to their own situation, whilst keeping within the legal requirements described above.

How should programmes of study be constructed?

Programmes of study should include those experiences and activities which are considered a necessary part of RE. These might include the development of pupils' understanding of religion and their ability to relate it to their own experience.

NCC experience suggests that learning activities should:

  • require teachers to set progressively more demanding tasks for pupils
  • enable pupils to reach their full potential
  • enable pupils to build on previous study and make links with other subjects
  • make clear links between what is learnt at different stages of education

[page 14]

  • be relevant to pupils' aptitudes by relating to the questions they ask at different stages and enabling them to relate what they learn in RE to their own lives
  • provide subject matter for pupils at their individual stages of development
  • take into account pupils' different religious backgrounds
  • promote the spiritual and moral development of pupils, as well as their cultural and intellectual growth, by requiring pupils to learn from religion as well as learning about it.
Programmes of study should also specify content to be taught, bearing in mind that they must not require teaching which is distinctive of any particular religious denomination. The following advice was given in the letter to CEOs on 18 March 1991. Content should:
  • be based on the religious traditions, practices and teaching of Christianity and the other major religions
  • extend beyond information about religions and religious traditions, practices and teaching, to wider areas of morality and consideration of how religious beliefs and practices affect people's daily lives
  • have regard to the national position as well as the local population.
When drawing up programmes of study integral to an agreed syllabus, a conference "should assume that there will be a reasonable time available for the study of RE" (DES Circular 3/89).

How might working groups be organised?

An effective way of producing attainment targets and programmes of study might be as follows.

  • Establish a working group of teachers from primary, secondary, special schools and from sixth-form colleges, with advisers or advisory teachers.
  • Establish a steering committee made up of members from each of the SACRE or conference groups to monitor progress, make recommendations to the working group, and report to SACRE or conference.
  • Devise a list of tasks and timescales for the working group and steering committee.
  • Consult people with an understanding of attainment in RE and the National Curriculum.
  • Trial the proposals in schools and make changes in the light of the results.
  • Ensure that the proposals are ratified by SACRE or conference.
  • Agree a monitoring period.
  • Decide how to review the work at given intervals in the light of new developments and experience.

[page 15]


Most LEAs require schools to develop a curriculum plan for RE, demonstrating how they intend to implement the agreed syllabus. If the agreed syllabus contains attainment targets and programmes of study, SACREs may wish to consider the following principles in advising schools how to plan the RE curriculum, and how to demonstrate links between RE and the whole curriculum.

  • A school curriculum plan should indicate which matters should be taught to different year groups.
  • Teachers should identify the key concepts and skills to be taught.
  • Teaching programmes should draw on pupils' learning in the previous key stage and ensure continuity with the next.
  • Teachers should develop activities which relate to the content and attainment targets for RE.
  • Learning experiences should be appropriate to the age and level of attainment of the pupil.
  • Teachers should consider the variety of teaching and learning methods to be used.
  • Tasks set should enable pupils to communicate understanding in a variety of ways.
  • Teachers should set activities which provide opportunities for gathering evidence of attainment.
  • The distinctive contribution of RE should be explicitly identified in the curriculum plan.
  • Teachers should be aware of possible links with other subjects and cross-curricular elements.

[page 16]


INSET tasks for working groups

The following tasks may be helpful in developing thinking about attainment in RE. They suggest how a SACRE might draw up a curriculum framework should it wish to do so.

Task A

Attainment targets provide teaching and learning objectives which can be assessed. This task is designed to help working groups clarify assessment objectives for RE.

(1) Make a list of the objectives in your own agreed syllabus, or, if there are none, in that of other LEAs.

(2) Identify the objectives which can be assessed and those which cannot (eg interpretation of religious texts and symbols could be assessed, whereas development of personal and moral integrity could not).

(3) Compare the objectives in other recent agreed syllabuses.

Do they contain additional assessment objectives which you might wish to include?

Task B

The purpose of this task is to help groups ensure that attainment targets provide coverage of what can be assessed in RE.

Most agreed syllabuses include two categories of learning in RE (see page 5). These are that pupils shall be taught to:

  • understand the teachings and practices of Christianity and other world religions
  • develop their own beliefs and values.
(1) Do you agree that these two categories include all that can be assessed in RE? If not, what is missing?

(2) Could these categories constitute attainment targets in their own right, or do they need further clarification?

(3) Decide which of the assessment objectives identified in Task A belong with each of the categories above.

(4) What might pupils be expected to do in order to show:

  • knowledge and understanding of the teachings and practices of Christianity and other world religions
  • development of their own beliefs and values
  • attainment in any other areas identified by SACRE or agreed syllabus conference working groups.
You should now be in a position to identify a few attainment targets which cover what you perceive to be all the aspects of learning in RE which can be assessed.

[page 17]

Task C

This task is to help working groups write statements of attainment.

(1) Establish four or five groups, each including teachers from the various key stages (and sixth-form teachers if statements of attainment are being written for the 16-18 age group).

(2) Taking each attainment target separately, establish the principles on which to build progression into statements of attainment.

  • For example, progression might be seen in terms of making increasingly detailed and perceptive connections between elements such as belief and practice.
  • In another context, progression might be seen in pupils' ability to demonstrate increasing understanding of the complexity and diversity of religious beliefs.
  • The principles of progression are likely to be different for each attainment target.
(3) Make a list of statements which describe what pupils might be expected to do at the end of each key stage in relation to each of the attainment targets chosen. Bear in mind the principles of progression identified in (2), and take into account the range of pupil ability that might be expected.

(4) List the statements for each key stage and for each attainment target in order of difficulty, beginning with the least demanding. Read the section on page 8 of this document and check that your statements of attainment reflect these criteria.

Task D

This task is designed to help working groups, steering committees and SACREs evaluate their proposals for attainment targets and programmes of study.

(1) Practicability Are the proposals achievable by pupils, including those with special educational needs, and their teachers?

(2) Level Are the levels of attainment within the proposed targets pitched so as to be realistic and challenging across the whole ability range?

(3) Coverage Do the proposals for the attainment targets and programmes of study include all the areas of knowledge, skills and understanding in the agreed syllabus which should be covered in the school curriculum for RE?

(4) Precision Are the statements which define levels of attainment specific enough to provide a clear basis for assessment?

(5) Legality Are the programmes of study sufficiently detailed at each key stage to demonstrate the legality of the agreed syllabus with reference to the Education Reform Act 1988, DES Circular No 3/89, and the advice given to all CEOs in the letter from the DES dated 18 March 1991?

[page 18]


Attainment and Assessment, Association of Religious Education Advisers and Inspectors, 1989.

Attainment in Religious Education, Westhill College, 1989.

Circular 3/89: The Education Reform Act 1988 - Religious Education and Collective Worship, DES, 1989.

The Education Reform Act 1988, HMSO, 1988.

Letter from DES to all Chief Education Officers, 18 March 1991.