Religious Education must change to better reflect modern Britain

Commission on RE report proposes changes to subject to reflect more diverse beliefs under a new name: Religion and Worldviews

Religious Education in England’s schools needs to be strengthened to ensure all pupils receive adequate preparation for life in modern Britain, and must adapt to reflect social changes, according to the final report from the independent Commission on Religious Education, published today (September 9, 2018).

The Commission’s report, ‘Religion and Worldviews: a national plan for RE’, recommends a new approach to RE in schools as well as changes to the laws and policies governing the subject. Its proposals describe a new and richer vision for RE that prepares young people for living in an increasingly diverse world, setting out ten recommendations for a reformed subject called ‘Religion and Worldviews’.

The core recommendation is a new National Entitlement for all pupils in all schools that specifies nine broad requirements for what they should be taught, including the concepts of ‘religion’ and ‘worldviews’, which the Commission describes as ‘complex, diverse and plural’. It also recommends that pupils examine the roles religious and non-religious worldviews play in societies and the lives of individuals, including their influence on moral behaviour and social norms. However, the proposals allow schools to develop different approaches to best reflect their pupils’ experiences and their school character and context.

Programmes of study for pupils would be able to draw from a range of approaches to life including the different traditions within Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism, non-religious worldviews such as Humanism, secularism, atheism and agnosticism. Teachers and curriculum planners would also have some freedom to develop curriculum plans that take account of a broader range of worldviews where appropriate.

All schools, including free schools, academies, and schools of a religious character, would be required to ensure that every pupil has access to Religion and Worldviews learning through the curriculum, lessons, and wider experiences. Schools would also need to publish a detailed statement about how they meet the National Entitlement with inspectors and other approved bodies given the power to monitor to ensure minimum standards are met.

The report, the result of a two-year long consultation process involving teachers and pupils, as well as individuals and organisations involved in religious education and policy across England, reaffirms that all pupils should be taught the subject in every year up to and including year 11. It also recommends that post-16 students should have the opportunity to study the subject in Further Education.

In addition, the Commission proposes a comprehensive national plan for the subject, including a major programme of support for teachers in the form of funding for training in Religion and Worldviews for new and existing teachers. Changes to the current legislation governing Standing Advisory Councils on RE (SACREs), which support RE locally, are also set out. The Commission proposes the creation of Local Advisory Networks on Religion and Worldviews with an enhanced role, which would include supporting the implementation of the National Entitlement.

Chair of the Commission on RE, The Very Rev Dr John Hall, said:

“Life in Britain, indeed life in our world, is very different from life in the 1970s when Religious Education began to include other world religions and beliefs besides Christianity.

“Young people today are growing up in a wonderfully diverse society. Day by day they can encounter different cultures and worldviews, if not personally at least through the media. So it has never been more important for people to understand the main traditions of faith and belief and the wide variety of worldviews. In employment and in everyday life, young people need to achieve fluency in relating to people with different traditions and outlooks from their own.

“At present, the quality of Religious Education in too many schools is inadequate in enabling pupils to engage deeply with the worldviews they will encounter. Many structural changes in education in the past twenty years have unintentionally undermined the integrity of RE in the school curriculum. The Commission is proposing a fresh start for the subject with a vision for the teaching of Religion and Worldviews in every school.”

The Commission will now present its recommendations to the Department for Education, proposing that non-statutory programmes of study should be developed at a national level by a body of ten or fewer professionals, including teachers, and then ratified by the Department.

Written By: Colin Hallmark 

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