Placing enquiry at the heart of learning

Where RE is most effective, enquiry is placed at the heart of learning. Schools should develop a well-defined and systematic approach to using enquiry in RE.

Enquiry is most effective and consistent where it is based on a clear, straightforward model.

Effective enquiry in RE

  • is not age-limited – examples of effective enquiry were found at all ages
  • involves sustained learning – pupils set up the enquiry, carry it out, evaluate their learning and revisit the questions
  • starts by engaging pupils in their learning – making sure they can see the relevance and importance of the enquiry and how it relates to their own concerns
  • allows pupils time to gather information and draw conclusions before asking them to reflect on or apply their learning – the focus on ‘learning from’ will probably come late in the process as they ask the key question – so what?
  • enables pupils to reconsider their initial thinking and extend their enquiry as they begin to see new levels of possibility – if pupils have identified key questions at the outset, they might want to reconsider these questions, add more, or re-prioritise their importance
  • allows pupils to use their creativity and imagination – ensuring that experiential learning and opportunities to foster spiritual development are built into the process of enquiry

The enquiry cycle

Where RE works well, pupils are given carefully structured opportunities to find out for themselves, making their own connections and drawing their own conclusions.

The cycle may be summarised:

The enquiry cycle model

Asking questions

to give a context.

Engaging pupils from the outset in ‘big questions’ provides a context for carrying out an investigation

Investigation using

  • effective enquiry approaches to promote questioning and discussion about religious material
  • a Philosophy for Children (P4C) approach, which can deepen and extend pupils’ investigation into religion, building the skills of effective argument

Drawing conclusions

using a balance of

  • first-hand experience - access to examples of living religious practice to research RE topics
  • high-quality resources (some web-based) to stimulate pupils’ learning


Impersonal evaluation asks pupils to give well-founded reasons and justify their conclusions or views rather than just expressing their personal feelings or responses to the enquiry.

Reflection and expression

Where RE is highly effective, opportunities for reflection and creativity are integrated within the process of enquiry and arise directly from pupils’ engagement with religious material, enabling them to deepen understanding and present their findings

Adapted from Religious Education: realising the potential (Ofsted 2013)

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