In order to lead a ‘safe independent life’ when leaving SAIL our learners with autism and/or SEMH need to be given the opportunities for encountering people of different beliefs and lifestyles in order to develop the skills to become “skilled cultural navigators”; who at their own level of challenge are able to develop an understanding of the differences of faith and belief around them, as well as establish their own sense of identity and belonging.
The opportunity to access R.E. is given to all pupils in key stage 1, 2 and 3. There is the option of further religious study and accreditation in key stage 4 if a pupil opts to take the course.
Many of our pupils with autism and/or SEMH have difficulty in showing interest, curiosity, imagination or an inability to express themselves in socially acceptable ways. A major part of religious education focuses on abstract concepts which involves exploring attitudes, emotions, and self-reflection. Our learners with autism and/or SEMH can have particular difficulty with abstract thought and they can tend to think in a strongly literal manner. Central to their needs are there may be barriers empathising with or understanding that others have a different point of view. Baron Cohen (1995) through his exploration of Theory of Mind skills in people with autism refers to this as ‘Mind -blindness’. Emphasis is therefore laid across the curriculum on helping pupils to become aware of other people and their needs, to build relationships based on mutual respect and trust; to look at the world about them; and thus to come indirectly to an awareness and perhaps an understanding of spiritual and moral values. Encouragement will be given to develop self-understanding, to explore attitudes and emotions, to express opinions and choices and to respect the views and rights of others.
Our R.E. curriculum is adapted from the recommendations made in the Wiltshire SACRE (2011):
‘Special Schools are expected to follow the spirit of this Agreed Syllabus in terms of creative teaching to achieve levelled outcomes in the exploration of key questions. Teachers should be able to explain the rationale for their planning and teaching, and its basis in the Agreed Syllabus’. (SACRE 2011:8)
Recognising that our pupils have difficulty with the abstract and are more able to learn through concrete experiences (Temple Grandin - Thinking pictures, 1993) our R.E. curriculum is delivered through theme days throughout the year and an ‘immersion day’ every term (6 x annually), all of which are interwoven with our SMSC learning opportunities. Throughout these learning experiences the pupils are presented with opportunities to explore answers to the SACRE recommended key fields of enquiry through meaningful experience aiming to make complex abstract concepts concrete and applicable to the pupils life. Learning experiences take place through visits to places of worship, meeting visitors from a range of faith communities and using a range of forms of expression to communicate their own considered views and the views of others.
Pupils will leave SAIL with a greater understanding and tolerance of different faiths and religions so that they are able to live in a multi-cultural society successfully, leading a safe independent life.