School and government performance on religious education failing record number of students, says landmark data review
Neglecting RE leaves ‘gaping hole in the school curriculum’, says Father of the House Sir…
MPs and Peers met with students, parents, academics and subject leaders in March over concern that religious education (RE) in schools is being both underfunded and undervalued.
Led by Father of the House, Sir Peter Bottomley MP, attendees at the roundtable discussion – from different faiths and none – spoke about the importance of good religious education in schools and the benefits to society it provides.
Speaking as a parent, broadcaster and comedian Paul Karensa described the subject’s ability to develop relationships and commonality among students from different backgrounds, while Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou of the University of Exeter warned of the dangers of substandard religious education: “Religious literacy is damaging; children aren’t equipped to talk about differences. We are global citizens and we are mobile so children and young people need to understand different religious and cultural systems.”
Attendees also spoke of the subject’s unique ability to provide time for young people to discuss and debate their own beliefs around issues in theology, philosophy and ethics as well as religious and non-religious worldviews.
Addressing the roundtable, Year 10 student Shreya supported this with her own experience: “RE is fundamental to life. It’s all about people and people will never be out of date. RE is the one time in school where you can talk, listen and try to make sense of people, events and beliefs in the world.”
The discussion also focused on concerns over the future of RE. Deborah Weston OBE spoke of the urgent need for a National Plan for RE. No central government money has been spent on the subject in the last five years and 22 per cent of schools are not fulfilling their legal requirement to teach it. Removing the subject from the EBacc and leaving the GCSE short course off the school performance rankings has also had damaging consequences for the subject. A Level Student Iona also spoke about her frustration at being taught by non-RE specialists while studying the subject at GCSE.
MPs supported action, reiterating their support for the subject and the need to invest in high quality provision. Luke Pollard MP suggested a cross-party commitment to provide proper funding and support for RE in their upcoming manifestos. Sir Peter Bottomley also expressed concern over the ongoing problem of recruiting teachers to the subject: “If the proportion of trained RE teachers is falling then something needs to be done to stop it,” he said.
Last year the Government scrapped the RE teacher training bursary, designed to attract teachers to the subject, despite recruitment targets being missed for nine of the last ten years.
The roundtable concluded with a reminder of public support for the subject. Research commissioned by Culham St Gabriel’s Trust in 2021 found that two-thirds of the public think religious education is an important part of the school curriculum. Seven out of ten surveyed also agreed that RE’s role is to provide pupils with the opportunity to learn more about other people, beliefs, worldviews and cultures.
More information about an education in religion and worldviews can be found here www.rethinkre.org
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Notes for editors:
Central government funding for RE projects
In the period 2016-2021, Religious education received no central government funding for subject specific projects. During the same period, £387 million was allocated to Music projects, £154 million to Maths projects, £56 million to Science projects, £28.5 million to English projects, and £16 million to Languages projects.
Established in 1973, the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC) brings together over 60 national organisations. These comprise academic and professional associations specialising in religious education, as well as individual religion and belief organisations representative of the range of communities found nationally.
NATRE is the subject teacher association for RE professionals in primary and secondary schools and higher education, providing a representative voice at national level and publications and courses to promote professional development. NATRE’s Executive consists of a majority of serving teachers from primary and secondary schools who are elected for a three-year term of service.
The Commission on Religious Education was established in 2016 to review the legal, education, and policy frameworks for religious education (RE). The Commission’s final report, ‘Religion and Worldviews: a national plan for RE’, published in 2018, recommends a new approach to RE in schools as well as changes to the laws and policies governing the subject. The ultimate aim is to improve the quality and rigour of religious education and its capacity to prepare pupils for life in modern Britain.