Interim report finds rules governing RE are not fit for purpose
All state-funded schools in England should publish details of their approach to religious education and how they meet the requirements of a new National Entitlement for RE, under proposals set out in an interim report by the Commission on Religious Education published today (September 21, 2017).
The recommendation is one of a series of proposals set out for consultation in the Commission’s report, “Religious Education for All”, which reviews the law and policies behind RE, as well as the way it is delivered in schools. The Commission’s aim is to improve the quality and rigour of the subject and its capacity to prepare pupils for life in modern Britain.
The report criticises the current inconsistency in the quality and provision of RE. It cites increasing numbers of schools that are failing to meet their basic legal requirements, meaning pupils experience a lottery in access to high quality RE and miss out on vital preparation for life in a multicultural society and globalised world.
Among the proposals by the Commission on RE, an independent body with members from a variety of backgrounds and expertise, including teaching, the law, and academia, are:
- A new National Entitlement for Religious Education. This would clearly set out for the first time the aims and purposes of RE and what students should experience in the course of their study. For example, the Commission proposes that RE should enable pupils to understand the relationship between people’s worldview and their thinking and actions in political, public, social and cultural life, and how worldviews are ‘inextricably woven into, influence and are influenced by, all dimensions of human experience’. The Commission also believes that RE plays a role in preparing pupils for life in modern Britain by enabling them to engage respectfully with people with worldviews different from their own.
- Schools should be held to account for the provision and quality of RE they provide. All schools, including free schools, academies, and schools of a religious character, should publish details of how they meet the new National Entitlement, and inspectors and other approved bodies would have the power to monitor RE to ensure a minimum standard.
- A National Plan for improving the teaching and learning of RE – along the lines the National Plan for Music Education – which brings together the Commission’s recommendations for improving teacher subject knowledge. The nine draft proposals for the plan include a minimum of 12 hours devoted to RE in all primary initial teacher training courses; the opportunity for all primary trainees to observe RE teaching in a leading school for RE; and the requirement that teachers ‘demonstrate a good understanding of and take responsibility for the sensitive handling of controversial issues, including thoughtful discussion of religious and non-religious worldviews’. The Commission also recommends that bursaries for trainee RE teachers are brought in line with other subjects where there is a shortage of recruits.
Chair of the Commission, The Very Rev Dr John Hall, said:
“All students need a thorough understanding of religious and non-religious worldviews, regardless of their own personal views, as a vital preparation for life and employment in modern Britain. A rich understanding of Britain’s diverse communities and a broad perception of different worldviews will enable students to build a more cohesive and peaceful world for the future.
“However, the evidence is that too many state schools are failing to meet their legal obligations to provide religious education for all students. This is unfair. So we are recommending a National Entitlement for RE and that all schools should be required to give an account of how they make the provision.
“At the same time, we wish to see a review of the quality of RE teaching and of teacher education in RE. We need to ensure that students’ learning addresses how religious and non-religious worldviews affect people’s decisions and behaviour in almost every aspect of life.
The Commission on RE’s interim report will now be subject to an extensive consultation between October and December 2017, before it makes its final recommendation, which will be published in September 2018.