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Primary teachers under-prepared to teach RE

The lack of time allocated to RE during initial teacher training courses leaves primary school teachers feeling under-prepared to teach the subject when they arrive in the classroom, according to a report published today by the National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE). This, compounded by a lack of curriculum time in many schools and the high turnover of RE subject leaders, is leaving RE teaching in a perilous state in many primary schools.

This new research was conducted by NATRE over a period of six weeks in the Spring Term 2013 via an online data gathering tool. Replies were received from 679 individual schools in England, of different types. The views of all those who expressed an opinion include:

  • 58% of primary teachers polled say that, on entering the profession, they had little or no confidence to teach RE
  • 49% of primary teachers said they had received less than 3 hours training to teach RE (of these, 24% said they received no training at all)
  • 82% of schools allocate less than 60 minutes to RE per week
  • Teachers are most likely to hold the position of RE subject leader for less than two years (40.9% of post holders) and least likely to continue beyond 5 years (only 31.3% of post holders). This highlights the need for new subject leaders to have access to high quality continuing professional development and to reliable resources to support the leadership of the rest of the team delivering the subject.
  • There is a heavy reliance on web-based resources (67% report regular access), leaving teachers vulnerable to the use of materials that may potentially be inaccurate, misleading or even contain offensive representations of religion or belief.

As with other recent examples of reports on the state of RE in our schools, Michael Gove has remained silent.

In response to the survey and its findings Ed Pawson, chair of NATRE, said:

In the light of the shocking murder of Lee Rigby in broad daylight on a Woolwich street and the subsequent backlash from anti-Islamic activists, why are we not taking the need for good religious education more seriously? If our young people are to grow up to be well-informed about religions and other non-religious worldviews, this must begin early in their school life. The fact that the majority of newly trained primary school teachers feel under-prepared to teach about religion and beliefs raises serious questions: how are we to expect children to become active citizens, having an understanding of, and respect for the beliefs and values of others, if their teachers are lacking in confidence themselves?
This survey raises serious questions about the time allocation for RE on initial teacher training courses and about the subsequent need for all schools to offer substantial, meaningful professional development opportunities for serving teachers.

You can read the full report here.

John Keast, Chair of the RE Council, commented:

As society becomes more religiously diverse, children need a safe space to learn about the diversity and commonality of religions and beliefs, and their impact on the world today. Today’s figures from the National Association of Teachers of RE show an uncomfortable truth –  from reception class onwards children are losing out as many primary schools don’t think they have enough time for RE and when they do teachers are not being adequately supported.

Primary school teachers have told NATRE that they feel under-prepared to teach RE. RE is a challenging and robust subject, in primary schools it takes considerable skill and experience to give a fair, considered and understandable answer to the tricky questions that young children have about faith and beliefs.  By continuing to ignore RE, the current government is threatening to brush issues of faith, belief and diversity under the carpet.

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