Chronic shortage of RE teachers in schools

Campaign aims to attract RE teachers to boost religious literacy and combat stereotypes

 Pupils will fail to filter out the stereotypes that contribute to religious discrimination while a shortage of RE teachers remains, says the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC). The charity, which believes that high quality specialist teaching about all faiths, beliefs and worldviews is essential for all school children, is leading a consortium to relaunch the Beyond the Ordinary campaign, designed to attract career changers and graduates to train as RE teachers.

The REC is responding to a shortage of qualified RE teachers in schools and a need for greater incentives to attract new recruits:

  • For entry into initial teacher training in 2017, 405 places were filled[1], falling well below the Government target of 643. To reach that figure requires 1 in 20 graduates with a relevant degree to elect to train as a RE teacher.
  • According to the Government’s 2016 School Workforce Survey around half (55%) of staff teaching RE in schools have no post-A level qualification in the subject.
  • The REC is pressing the Department for Education for higher bursaries for RE teachers. Currently a first-class degree holder will receive £9,000 and an upper second-class degree holder will receive just £4,000 towards their training costs. By contrast training for similar specialist subjects such as Geography and Classics offers a grant of £26,000.
  • The charity is also calling for funding for Subject Knowledge Enhancement courses, which enable graduates with a wide variety of degrees to apply for RE teacher training.

School statistics show a generation keen to learn about the differences between faiths, beliefs and cultures in society. Over 60% of all 16-year olds take RE at GCSE and A level entries have more than doubled in the last 15 years.

Campaign lead, Kathryn Wright, director of the Teach RE course at Culham St Gabriel’s, believes that good RE teachers can come from all walks of life as they develop their students’ critical thinking skills and contribute significant benefits to society as a whole.

“This year we hope our campaign will capture the interest and imagination of those who may have considered teaching but may not have thought of RE.  We have proved that showcasing the intellectual challenge of the subject and highlighting the rewards for teachers who have the opportunity to tackle complex and sensitive issues with teenagers, really resonates.  We’re hoping to interest more would-be RE teachers who have a rich understanding of – and interest in – the subject, as well as real-life experiences to navigate this fascinating, highly-relevant subject.”

Previous Beyond the Ordinary campaign waves have seen an almost immediate surge in PGCE applications to train to become a secondary school RE teacher. The campaign was the first of its kind to draw attention to the stimulating nature of RE teaching. Fronted by RE teacher Lynsey Wilkinson, it uses media partnerships, social media and direct-mail campaigns to drive awareness and point prospective candidates to a promotional film which tells the story of Lynsey’s experience.

RE specialists come from a variety of backgrounds. The PGCE course is open to graduates from a variety of academic disciplines and from all sorts of diverse backgrounds. A lack of subject expertise in schools – according to OFSTED around half (46%) of specialist RE teachers have no post-A Level qualification in the subject – shows that there are opportunities for fast career progression.

Anyone looking for more information about training to be a RE teacher should visit www.teachre.co.uk/beyondtheordinary.

Colin Hallmark

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