New school inspection framework will boost school accountability for religious education

A new school inspection framework has been welcomed by the religious education community for its potential to improve the way schools are held to account for the provision of religious education and to recognise best practice.

Under the new Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) education inspection framework, two-day long school inspections will put much greater emphasis on the curriculum, which is expected to include religious education and to be broad, both in academies and state-maintained schools.

From September, a small number of subjects will also be chosen as a focus for inspectors’ examination of the curriculum in each school. These subjects could include religious education.

The new Ofsted framework provides additional accountability for the provision of RE through the following inspection guidelines:

  • All pupils in maintained schools are required to study the basic curriculum, which includes the national curriculum, religious education and age-appropriate relationship and sex education.
  • Academies must include English, mathematics, science and religious education in their curriculum. This curriculum must be of similar breadth and ambition to that provided in a maintained school.
  • Spiritual development for pupils must include their ability to be reflective about their own beliefs (religious of otherwise) and perspective on life, as well as knowledge of, and respect for, different people’s faiths, feelings and values.
  • Provision is needed for the cultural development of pupils, including their ability to recognise, and value, the things we share in common across cultural, religious, ethnic, and socio-economic communities.
  • Inspectors will consider how the curriculum is taught; the extent to which teachers have expert knowledge of the subjects that they teach and are supported to address gaps in their knowledge
  • Further requirements relating to pupils’ spiritual, moral, social, cultural – and personal – development.

Previous Ofsted reports have been critical of the level and quality of RE provision in some schools. The last subject review in 2013 described the quality of RE as ‘highly variable’ and less than good in just under half of secondary schools and in six out of ten primary schools observed.

A report by the Religious Education Council (REC) and the National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE) in 2016 found that one in four (28%) state secondary schools were struggling to meet their legal obligation to teach pupils about major religions and other worldviews. Just a year later, an independent Commission on RE found that this figure had risen to one in three (33%) of state secondaries.

REC Chief Executive, Rudolf Eliott Lockhart, said:

“Maintained schools and academies are already legally required to provide religious education for all pupils in every year.  This new inspection framework should make it easier for inspections to be used to hold schools to account for failing to give pupils the RE to which they are entitled. Greater accountability through inspection was one of the key recommendations of the Commission on RE report last year, so we are encouraged to see that Ofsted is taking measures to address this gap.”

NATRE Chair, Ben Wood, added:

“This is an important step in the right direction. The new Ofsted framework will mean that both provision for, and, quality of RE has a much higher profile during Ofsted inspections and, crucially, that it may be one of the subjects chosen for a deep dive review. We look forward to seeing how Ofsted enact this new framework and NATRE will continue to work closely with Ofsted on these matters.”

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