The place of religious education in the development of children's worldviews
Adopting a narrative epistemology this study uses qualitative research with children between the ages of 9 and 11 to consider the nature of children's worldviews and the place of RE in their meaning construction. In England and Wales church schools are perceived to be particularly attentive to children's personal, social, cultural, moral and spiritual development, especially through RE. Employing a case study approach with' four church schools (two Church of England and two Roman Catholic) this research utilises a broad understanding of RE (lessons, collective worship and ethos) to investigate whether these perceptions are justified. The work is informed by a range of linguistic, sociological, educational, philosophical and theological particulars and whilst it is acknowledged that this study constitutes only a small scale study it aims to authentically represent and analyse the children's narratives and experiences of RE. Pursuing a grounded theory approach that works from open interviews with children this research develops an analytical framework that considers children's meaning construction in terms of the nature and impact of different relationships. By taking account of empirical research and theorists in complementary areas the process of analysis examines the notion of the relational self and proposes a model for interrogating the structure and effect of different aspects of relationships for the individual's meaning construction. Throughout the course of the research this study also develops the concept of worldviews by inquiring into what it means to speak of worldview development. Combining these elements with narrative theory this relational analysis and conceptualisation of worldview development explores the place of nurture and the provision of RE in church schools. Taking account of the contemporary theoretical debate in this area this study offers a critical reflection of its findings at the four schools involved with this work. Highlighting the crucial role of relationships and experience, together with how this is addressed in the learning process, the fundamental distinction is made between RE that focuses on what to think in contrast to how to think. Conclusions and recommendations are drawn which address: (1) the need for better communication between those who contribute to the shaping of models of RE in church schools; (2) the need for practitioners to develop a clear understanding of their role in the classroom so that they might confidently engage in those relationships necessary for children's worldview development; (3) the need for a broader theoretical debate in relation to church schools and RE; (4) the need for further research in this area. In advancing a way of understanding children's meaning construction and worldview development this study offers a framework and suggestions for further research which speaks to both the context of church schools as well as the broader field of education generally.