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Why the state of religious education needs to be improved

Imran Mogra, senior lecturer in Religious Education at Birmingham City University, discusses schools breaking the law on religious education

Posted by Lucinda Reid | September 25, 2017 | Teaching

A new report by the National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE) and Religious Education Council for England and Wales, based on Freedom of Information Data gathered by the Department for Education in 2015, has found that more than a quarter of secondary schools in the UK are not teaching their pupils any religious education (RE).

The report makes a clear case to strengthen the importance and provisions of learning and teaching the subject in contemporary British society across all schools.

The report, based on a survey of 790 schools, found that 25% of all schools surveyed said a weekly RE lesson is not available. 28% of secondary schools were struggling to make RE provisions. The situation seems poorer in academies and free schools, which make up the majority of secondary schools, where more than a third (34%) were not offering RE to 11 to 13 year-olds and nearly half (44%) were not offering it to 14 to 16 year-olds. Such a low level of RE is found in only a third of schools where a locally agreed syllabus applies and in 10% of schools with a religious character. 4% of schools with a religious character do not offer a weekly lesson.

Legally, all state schools in the United Kingdom are required to teach RE to their learners at all Key Stages, though parents continue to have the right to withdraw their children from RE. Faith schools are permitted to teach their own form of RE. Schools controlled by local authorities must follow their local RE syllabus. Academies and free schools should also teach RE which can be of their own kind, which is determined as part of their funding agreement.

For those involved in the training of future teachers it is important to provide future teachers the opportunity to learn about RE to observe RE being taught

These figures are surprising considering the fact that the teaching of RE has been statutory for a very long time. Having said this, it is important to recognise that the majority of schools do offer RE to their children, albeit of varied quality, and this is a welcome and positive situation to be in.

In a diverse society like Britain, it is crucial that there is an opportunity for children to learn RE so that they can know and understand what influences the beliefs and practices of their peers and those in the wider community. The data provides evidence to challenge some assumptions about the provision of RE in schools with a religious character.

It is plausible that pressures from other subjects, recruitment difficulties, utilisation of non-specialists, a change of priorities and the exclusion of RE from the English Baccalaureate might be affecting the situation.

Given that there are reports suggesting an increase in the level of hate crimes based on religion in the form of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in particular, it is imperative that the state of RE is improved. Perhaps, the forthcoming Interim Report on religious education by the Commission on RE will provide an added impetus. There is a need for a clear statement to be made by those in authority that it is unacceptable for a school not to provide RE.

For those involved in the training of future teachers it is important to provide future teachers the opportunity to learn about RE to observe RE being taught, to teach RE in schools and, most importantly, to think about the value of the subject and the consequence of not teaching it.    

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