Number of schools flouting Religious Education laws rises

Half of academies without a religious character and 40 per cent of community schools are still failing to meet their legal or contractual agreements to provide Religious Education, new research by the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE) has revealed.

State schools must teach RE to all pupils, whether they are studying for a GCSE in the subject or not. However, provision has been hit by schools being able to hide behind failing accountability structures, meaning many academies and community schools breach their contractual and legal obligations.

Meanwhile, more than a third of schools reported that they have received no subject specific training in the last academic year. The new Ofsted Framework for inspection states that school leaders, including governing boards, will be held to account during an inspection where lack of training for teachers has a negative impact on pupils.

NATRE’s research found that:

  • Almost 40% (up from 34% in 2015-16) of community and 50% of Academy schools without a religious character do not meet their legal or contractual requirements for RE at Key Stage 4. The proportion of Academies remains similar to 2015-16, but the overall number of Secondary Academies has increased by almost 20%, meaning more pupils are affected.
  • 64% of students in year 11 and 59% in year 10 receive no Religious Education at Key Stage 4 where RE is an optional subject, even though it is a legal requirement.
  • Almost one in three (32%) of respondents reported that some parents withdraw pupils from Religious Education in their school.
  • Nearly a quarter (21%) of schools give less than the recommended teaching time of 120-140 learning hours for a Full Course RS GCSE.
  • More than 80% of schools plan to make no GCSE RS Short Course entries in 2018/19, which represents a rapid decline (50%) since 2012. 16% reported no entries for the Full Course.
  • In 58% of schools the number of specialist teachers of RE either remained stable or (in 13% of cases) increased. In some schools however the number of specialists employed is falling. This was reported by more than a quarter of respondents (28%).

Commenting on the research findings, Ben Wood, NATRE Chair, said:

“There are so many schools, of every type, primary, secondary, academy, free school, local authority school, big and small, rural, urban, in every part of the country that provide their pupils with excellent RE as part of a broad and balanced curriculum.  This makes it all the more unacceptable to hear of schools where pupils are not given the access to the religious literacy they need and deserve to support them in our increasingly pluralistic society. 

“RE is a vital part of the curriculum, giving pupils the chance to learn about the people in the world around them and providing them with the opportunity to discuss and debate important questions.  To deny pupils this chance means pupils are missing a crucial part of their learning, something every pupil in every school is entitled to receive.”

The survey results show that the Government needs to take action and NATRE urges it to establish a National Plan for RE as recommended by the Commission on Religious Education.

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