Commission says subject needs to prepare pupils for the modern world – with teaching about atheism and agnosticism
By John Roberts
A new report has called for religious education to be relaunched as “religion and world views”, so pupils are taught about humanism, secularism, atheism and agnosticism alongside faith.
The Commission on Religious Education says the subject needs to be revised to prepare pupils for living in an increasingly diverse world.
The chair of the commission, the Very Rev Dr John Hall, warned that the quality of RE in too many schools was inadequate because it failed to allow pupils to engage deeply with the world views they will encounter in life.
The report, published today, calls for a new national entitlement to be created setting out what all pupils should be taught, including the concepts of religion and world views.
It says that all schools – including free schools, academies and schools of religious character – should be required to ensure that pupils have access to religion and world views learning.
The commission is calling for schools to be required to publish detailed statements about how they are meeting the national entitlement, with inspectors given powers to monitor this to ensure minimum standards are being met.
The report says that the proposals allow for schools to develop different approaches to “best reflect their pupils’ experiences and their school character and context.”
RE ‘should reflect world views’
Programmes of study for pupils could draw from a range of approaches to life including the different traditions within Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism, and non-religious world views such as humanism, secularism, atheism and agnosticism.
Dr 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 world views, 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 world views. In employment and in everyday life, young people need to achieve fluency in relating to people with different traditions and outlooks from their own.”
The commission says that academisation and reductions in funding have reduced local authority support for RE through standing advisory councils on religious education (SACREs).
It says that this has increased the disparity between schools with a religious character, where support structures remain “relatively robust”, and those without, where they are increasingly in jeopardy.
The commission proposes creating local advisory networks on religion and world views, which would support the implementation of the national entitlement.
And it calls for the launch of a major training programme in religion and world views for new and existing teachers.
Dr Hall added: “At present, the quality of religious education in too many schools is inadequate in enabling pupils to engage deeply with the world views they will encounter.
“Many structural changes in education in the past 20 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 world views in every school.”
‘Teaching less religion isn’t the answer’
The report follows an interim report last year which promoted the idea of creating a new national entitlement.
The commission will now present its recommendations to the Department for Education.
The Catholic Education Service has voiced concern about the proposals.
A spokesperson said: “As a leading provider of religious education, we welcome the laudable efforts of the commission to improve the quality of RE in all schools. However, for this noble aim to be achieved, there needs to be consensus among the RE community on what high-quality RE looks like. Disappointingly, this report fails to produce such a consensus.
“Any attempt to improve the quality of RE in all schools must be applauded and we are committed to working with the RE community to achieve this. However, this report is not so much an attempt to improve RE as to fundamentally change its character.
“The proposed name change to include ‘world views’ means that the scope of the subject is now so wide and nondescript that it would potentially lose all academic value and integrity. As we have always maintained, the quality of religious education is not improved by teaching less religion.”
The Church of England’s chief education officer Nigel Genders said: “This report calls for a new vision for Religious Education (RE) which is vital if we are to equip children for life in the modern world where religion and belief play such important roles.
“It is also timely given the falling numbers of students taking RE at GCSE and A level following the introduction of the English Baccalaureate (Ebacc).
“The report articulates well the need to recruit and train RE teachers who are resourced and supported effectively. It also makes significant recommendations for structural change in the way RE is determined. Today, most people’s experience of religion and belief is national and global, so we support the move away from a local determination of the subject.”