Letter from the Chair of EFTRE

Dear Members and Friends of EFTRE,

As I sit here at my desk at home in London, I am aware that it is almost exactly a year since our most recent EFTRE Conference. Our Irish hosts promised us ‘Céad Mile Fáilte’ (A Hundred, Thousand Welcomes’) and we were not disappointed! The event offered the usual EFTRE ‘mix’ of thought provoking key note lectures, inspiring workshop activities and fascinating study visits as well as wonderful social events where we could meet old friends and make many new ones. All the evaluations – both formal and informal – show that delegates very much appreciated the wealth of opportunities to enhance their professional development within a warm and mutually supportive environment. Once again, our heartfelt thanks go to Sandra Cullen (EFTRE Representative for the Republic of Ireland) and all her colleagues at Dublin City University who arranged everything so beautifully for us with the support of the members of the EFTRE Executive and also to Norman Richardson (EFTRE Representative for Northern Ireland) who organised a much appreciated supplementary programme across the border and based in Belfast.

At the end of November, members of the EFTRE Executive gathered in Copenhagen. After meeting with some representatives of the main RE teachers’ associations in Denmark, they began to review the last Conference and to plan the next one. This is to be held in Rome in August 2022 and so we were joined in Denmark by Orazio Ruscica (EFTRE Representative for Italy). We agreed that the programme would have a similar balance and shape to those that have preceded it, discussed some possible themes and also explored some other activities for EFTRE. We were ready to develop some exciting new ideas and returned home refreshed, energised and full of plans for the future.

But of course, we – like so many other organisations and individuals around the world – have been deeply affected by the coronavirus pandemic. These last few months have been some of the most challenging many of us have faced, both professionally and personally. Huge sacrifices have had to be made, significant limitations have been placed upon us and we have been forced to adapt to a whole range of unexpected and very demanding circumstances. Wherever we live and work in Europe, 2019-20 was an academic year like no other and all of us have been obliged to discover new ways of teaching RE.

EFTRE too has been affected by this unprecedented crisis – the first casualty was our planned Board Meeting in Valencia in March, arranged by Jose Garcia (EFTRE Representative for Spain) and his colleague and great friend of EFTRE, Carmen Montaner. As the situation in Spain developed and travel restrictions came into being, we were forced with much regret to cancel our gathering there and instead, members of the Executive met online. We used this opportunity to discuss EFTRE’s financial arrangements and reflected on how to manage membership more effectively, as well as the creation and design of a new, more interactive website for EFTRE and some possible exchange projects between members.

In the weeks and months since then, we have all been dealing with other priorities, but our EFTRE links are still there – members of the Executive have kept in close touch with one another throughout this time, offering help, advice and support via our WhatsApp Group and sharing ideas and experiences. We now need to renew our focus and consider the most practical ways in which we can continue our work together.

This last year has seen Europe – and indeed the whole world – struggle to address not only all the changes imposed on us by the pandemic, but also other key issues which we will have to address within the context of teaching and learning in RE. We have seen increased concern about the effects of climate change and witnessed the rise of populism and become increasingly aware of discrimination against certain groups within our societies; we need to wrestle with the implications of these factors in relation to what we teach and how we teach it. For EFTRE, this means we will want to consider very carefully how to approach our future projects and there is obviously a need for us to select a very clear, current and relevant theme for our next Conference.

We do have a Board Meeting in Valencia re-scheduled for this autumn on 21st November but it is unlikely that it will go ahead while movement around Europe is so difficult and arrangements are so uncertain. If necessary, this could of course proceed on that date via an online platform, where the main task would be to develop our programme for the Conference in 2022. We must look forward with hope and optimism! We will keep you informed!

In the meantime, I know that some of you have already begun the new academic year while for others the holiday period has only recently come to an end. Here in England, I returned to work this week and our schools should be re-opened fully too although so many people still have concerns about the safety of pupils, staff and the wider community. But whatever difficulties you are facing in your own country and situation, I send you all good wishes from EFTRE for a happy, healthy and successful year and look forward to hearing from you about how you are managing! Do stay in touch with us and thank you for your interest in EFTRE!

Best wishes,

Lesley Prior, Chair of EFTRE