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The state of Religious Education

Religious Education has been the subject of a number of reports and studies over the last month. Martin Sweet of the Baptist Education Group analyses what they are saying

Girl studyingReligious Education has rarely been the subject of BBC news, so it is significant that the current wave of reports on aspects of RE and the place of religious faith in schools has gained national interest.

Ofsted report

At the start of October, Ofsted published Religious Education: realising the potential (October 2013), reporting that many, both in education and faith communities, believe that RE is not in a good place. 

It asserts that changes in education policy, such as the introduction in 2010 of the English Baccalaureate, have led to a decline in RE provision in some if not many schools. This Ofsted report spells out key issues found during visits to 90 primary and secondary schools. One pertinent finding was that the teaching of RE in primary schools was not good enough, because access to high-quality RE training for teachers was poor.

This, plus a weakness in teachers’ understanding of RE, resulting in achievement and teaching being less than good in 60 per cent of schools visited. It appears the subject has become marginalised and isolated from the rest of the primary curriculum.

The report also maintained that the quality of RE is secondary schools was equally worrying. The quality of teaching was rarely outstanding and less than good in around half the lessons they observed. There is also a weakness in examination provision at KS 4.

Religious Education Council

The Religious Education Council (REC) launched its Review of RE on 23 October at the House of Commons, hosted by Stephen Lloyd MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on RE.

The report contains a new Curriculum Framework for RE, parallel to the new National Curriculum subject frameworks, which schools are preparing to teach from September 2014. A downloadable copy of the Review report is available on the REC website, in both the full version and a short version which contains the RE curriculum framework on its own.

An encouraging feature of the report is that its Foreword has been signed by Michael Gove, who admitted in July that he had perhaps been guilty of 'neglecting' RE. The REC is hopeful that his willingness to endorse its Review implies that he perhaps may do more to support the subject.

The RE Curriculum Framework outlines the purpose of RE, its aims and breadth. It contains programmes of study for three Key Stages as well as guidance on RE in the Early Years and beyond 14. In addition, a second part of the report covers current issues that shape RE’s context and makes recommendations for taking these forward, including improving training and resourcing. The report, which was fully agreed by the REC Board, also has the support of the major faith communities, RE professional groups, as well as the Department for Education – in itself a first and seen as a major step forward. The REC believes that the Review will provide an agenda for working with the Department and others on curriculum development, assessment, qualifications reform and training.

The new framework has some key areas of study which have been written to encourage the students’ own enquiries as they look at subjects such as ancient wisdom and scripture, community, encountering people and places of faith.

Following the launch, there are to be five regional dissemination meetings: these are free and open to all on a first come first served basis. Details are on their website.

National Secular Society

The National Secular Society (NSS) also published a report in October, entitled Evangelism in State Schools, seeking to criticise the role of Christian visitors into publicly funded schools.

The report raises many concerns about groups whose agenda they take to be ‘evangelism’ in schools. They claim that many groups gain an entry to schools by ‘hiding’ under the banner of ‘education’. Clearly everyone involved in this area of work would agree that any form of coercion or proselytising in school is unwelcome, and that there must be a clear distinction between education and evangelism that most groups and teaching staff will understand.

The NSS implication that many teachers and senior staff in schools are being ‘taken in’ is unfortunate, as too are the cavalier actions of a few visiting groups that engage in poor practice. The one outcome that is likely is that poor practice or a lack of transparency by Christians who visit their local schools may well get the attention it deserves from those who are anxious about church activity in state schools.

The correct response to this report would be to agree that any input to any school must be appropriate, complimenting the locally agreed Religious Education syllabus and encouraging engaging times of Collective Worship.

Doubtless, the real debate should be had between the NSS and the government, since collective worship is, for the time being, still a statutory part of the school day. Hopefully, this debate will not end up creating friction within local communities, but rather result in better practice both by schools and visitors. There is a way forward, but the very tolerance or empathy that RE and the rest of the school curriculum seeks to promote is not always adhered to by all who say they are concerned about education.

Martin Sweet writes on behalf of the Baptist Education Group (BEG).

The vision of the Baptist Education Group is to encourage every Baptist church to strategically engage in supporting their local school. Their aim is to help churches to develop their awareness of the growing crisis in RE and spiritual development, helping them identify strategic responses to reposition the church’s mission in this changing landscape and to promote positive models to nurture faith in schools.

Martin is director of Spinnaker Trust, an organisation with over 25 years’ experience, based in SE London, regularly supporting over 100 primary schools in London and the Southeast with RE, assemblies and much more.

Also on the BEG is Baptist minister David Skinner. David has worked with REinspired in East Reading enabling churches to support their local schools with RE and Collective Worship and also Dare To Engage, which resources schools, colleges and churches to undertake ‘creative spiritual development for 16-19 year olds’.


Contact the Baptist Education Group via the Spinnaker Trust on 020 8778 3181

Picture: RGB Stock
Baptist Times, 05/11/2013
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