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Calls to reform religious education

A new report sets out calls to change the way religious education is taught

On 9 September the Commission on Religious Education (CoRE), released their final report, noting in their press release that religious education must change to better reflect life in modern Britain”. CoRE is an independent commission of the Religious Education Council for England and Wales.

According to the news release, the report suggests that religious education (RE) needs to be strengthened to ensure all pupils receive adequate preparation for life in modern Britain and must adapt to reflect social changes”. It makes a number of significant recommendations to the nature and teaching of the subject along these lines. These recommendations include:

  • A new vision and a new name
  • A new statutory national entitlement which applies to all publically funded schools and is subject to inspection (including academies with a religious character and voluntary-aided schools)
  • New structures of teaching and curriculum
  • The end of Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education (SACREs)
  • A review of the right of withdrawal from RE

We now explore each of these in turn.

A new vision and a new name 

The report recommends the subject be called religion and worldviews’ to correspond to its new vision. The report explains:

The time is right for a new vision for the subject if we are to prepare children and young people for living in the increasingly diverse world in which they find themselves. We need to move beyond an essentialised presentation of six major world faiths’ and towards a deeper understanding of the complex, diverse and plural nature of worldviews at both institutional and personal levels. We need to ensure that pupils understand that there are different ways of adhering to a worldview – you may identify with more than one institutional worldview, or indeed none at all. More still needs to be done to ensure that a wider range of institutional worldviews is taught, particularly Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism, which are sometimes neglected. And there needs to be a greater understanding, at a conceptual level, of how worldviews operate, the accounts they provide of the nature of reality, and how they influence behaviour, institutions and forms of expression. It is this powerful, conceptual knowledge that all pupils need to have.” (Para. 12)

The new statutory national entitlement

The report recommends that the new national entitlement (p.12 of the report) become statutory for all publically funded schools. This would mean:

The new national entitlement would replace the locally agreed syllabus at community, foundation and voluntary-controlled schools, .

That academies must provide teaching in accordance with the national entitlement, whether or not they have a religious ethos.

Voluntary-aided schools of a religious character must provide teaching in accordance with both the national entitlement and the requirements of their trust deed.

In addition, the report proposes that non-statutory programmes of study for each key stage (14) should be developed at national level, at a similar level of detail as those for history and geography”, and that these programmes of study should be developed by a national body of a maximum of nine professionals, including serving teachers”. (p.14) The report also recommends that Ofsted or Section 48 inspectors must report on whether schools are meeting the national entitlement”. (p.17)

Enhanced structures of teaching

The report recommends reforms to Initial Teacher Education (ITE) which include expanding the contact time for religion and worldviews, bursaries set at parity with other shortage subjects, and funding for subject knowledge enhancements on parity with EBacc subjects.

The report also calls for more funding for continuing professional development to support delivery of the new non-statutory national programmes of study”. This would include funding for a national programme of online and face-to-face CPD [Continuing Professional Development]”, the development of curriculum materials and supplementary guidance”, and support for local face-to-face CPD including teacher hubs and networks”; and all of these funding streams should be administered and overseen by the national body”. (p.16)

Changing role for SACREs

SACREs will no longer be responsible for agreeing local syllabi, as this function would be nationalised through the national entitlement. Instead they will be renamed as Local Advisory Networks’ and must facilitate the implementation of religion and worldviews in all schools within the local authority by providing information about sources of support available”. (p.16) They are to be comprised of: 

  • teachers of religion and worldview
  • school leaders and governors
  • Initial Teacher Education (ITE) and/​or CPD providers
  • school providers including the local authority, multi-academy trusts, diocese, etc.
  • religion, belief or other groups that support RE in schools or wish to do so

A review of the right of withdrawal from RE

The report recommends that the Department of Education (DfE) should review the right of withdrawal from religion and worldviews” and that this should include whether the right of withdrawal includes selectively from parts of religion and worldviews, whether parents need to provide an alternative curriculum, and whether those pupils opting out could take other subjects or access Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) support.

The report also recommends the DfE should work with school leaders to develop a code of good practice for managing the right of withdrawal” and that the DfE should monitor how the right of withdrawal is being used”.

About the author

Peter joined the Evangelical Alliance in 2018 as the Education Policy Officer and engages with national education policy and work with our members involved in education. Prior to this he had worked in the US for a Christian public policy institute (The Center for Public Justice) in policy areas including education, religious freedom and poverty and opportunity. He has been involved in politics as a local councillor in England and in public policy in both the US and the UK; having worked both on the policy side of education (particularly around education funding and curriculum design) and also having served as a school governor at both primary and secondary schools in the North East of England. He's married to a former primary school teacher and he and his bride have four children.

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