With the General Election fewer than 50 days away, and political parties hurrying to put together their manifestos, here are four things that we would like to see them include in order to help ensure that all pupils are able to have high quality religious education:
- To take note of the recommendations of the Commission on Religious Education when they are published (due in the second half of 2018), and to explore how best to implement them.
- To back up the current statutory requirement that schools provide religious education to all pupils with proper means to hold them to account, both for the level of provision and also its quality.
- To increase the number of trained and qualified teachers of religious education, in order to eliminate the current shortfall.
- To guarantee that all one year primary Initial Teacher Training (ITT) students receive a minimum of 12 hours of subject specific training in religious education.
What is good RE?
RE is a vibrant, academically rigorous subject that bears little resemblance to the religious instruction seen in many schools in previous generations. Covering multiple faiths and non-religious worldviews, RE challenges children to explore faith and belief in a way that gives them the transferable skills of literacy and reasoning in the classroom and allows them to gain a better understanding of the world around them.
Why do these four commitments matter?
1. To take note of the recommendations of the Commission on Religious Education when they are published (due in the second half of 2018), and to explore how best to implement them.
The Commission on Religious Education (CoRE) is a high-profile independent commission with a remit to make recommendations designed to improve the quality and rigour of religious education, and its capacity to prepare pupils for life in modern Britain. It was established in mid-2016 and is due to report in late-2018. CoRE was established following the publication of three key reports in 2015 that called for reform of RE, and after the 2016 Education White Paper proposed changes to the role of Local Authorities that would radically undermine the legal underpinning of RE without proposing a means for safeguarding RE’s future. Establishing CoRE follows on from the recommendations of the 2013 REC Review of Religious Education.
2. To back up the current statutory requirements that schools provide religious education to all pupils with proper means to hold them to account, both for the level of provision and also its quality.
It is a legal obligation to teach Religious Education (RE) in schools to pupils between the ages of 4 -18 years of age. Nonetheless, many schools do not always meet their statutory duty. According to the Department for Education’s school workforce data 28.2% of schools provide no RE in year 11, an increase of almost 13% since 2010. In addition, 42% of Academies are not meeting their legal requirements at Key Stage 4. At present, there are insufficient means for holding schools to account when they fail to offer RE to their pupils. All too often schools are held to account via performance indicators such as the Ebacc, which excludes RE. We would like to see political parties committing to working with the RE Council and NATRE to develop practical means for ensuring that schools are meeting the legal obligation to teach RE.
3. To increase the number of trained and qualified teachers of religious education, in order to eliminate the current shortfall.
There is a crisis in the provision of RE teachers, with a constant and increasing lack of specialist teachers in the subject. Over the past three years the number of RE teachers have fallen by more than 1,000, while the number of History teachers has remained relatively stable and the headcount of geography teachers has increased by 500. Children’s entitlement to high quality RE is being put at risk because of the failure to secure a workforce of teachers who can safeguard their religious literacy and wider preparation for life in modern Britain. According to the DfE Workforce Census published in July 2015, 29.6% of RE lessons in a typical week are taught by teachers with no post A Level qualification in the subject. When RE is taught by teachers that are not specialists in the subject there is a risk that issues within the curriculum and general discussion can be ignored for fear of offence or a lack of understanding.
4. To guarantee that all one year primary Initial Teacher Training (ITT) students receive a minimum of 12 hours of subject specific training in religious education.
On average, a primary trainee teacher receives less than three hours of training in RE on a PGCE or Schools Direct one year course. This is insufficient for them to cover a subject as complicated and important as RE. We believe that if all primary ITE students had a minimum of 12 hours of RE training this would put them in a far stronger position once they are in the classroom. 12 hours is the equivalent of just two days within a one year course: this is a realistic and deliverable aspiration.
 Based on an analysis of 2,793 schools in England in 2015
National Association of Teachers of RE
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.
Religious Education Council of England and Wales
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 religions and religious education, as well as individual religions and belief organisations inclusive of the range of faith communities found nationally, including the British Humanist Association.