CHURCHES and RE organisations have welcomed Thursday's
announcement by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, that the
Government is to scrap plans for a two-tier examination system that
included the widely criticised English Baccalaureate certificate.
Instead, the Government will retain GCSEs, although these are to be
made more rigorous and knowledge-based.
The new benchmark of success, however, will be performance in a
wider range of eight subjects, with three approved disciplines
added to the EBacc five.
The Church of England's chief education officer, the Revd Jan
Ainsworth, said that it was "inconceivable" that RE would be left
out of the eight.
Last week, the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard,
briefed the bishops that, despite the Government's insistence that
RE remains a legal requirement, its policies are sending the
subject into "a spiral of decline".
The letter was written last month, shortly after Bishop
Pritchard, who chairs the C of E's Board of Education, met the
Minister of State for Education, David Laws.
Bishop Pritchard writes: "It's clear that the Government has no
real interest in RE, because they see it as a scary nuisance, and
its protected status as a guarantee that all is well. It isn't."
The Bishop writes of the effect of excluding RE from the EBacc core
syllabus, and halving the training places for specialist
After details of the letter emerged this week, Mrs Ainsworth
backed Bishop Pritchard. "While relations with the Government are
good, generally, it does seem difficult to get over the seriousness
of the situation affecting RE. Bishop Pritchard was right to call
attention to the facts in the hope that his brother bishops can
lend their weight to the campaign."
After Mr Gove's announcement on Thursday, Mrs Ainsworth said
that "The broader approach revealed today will enable RE to resume
its rightful place in the curriculum. No educationalist would
object to the more challenging subject content that ministers
The chairman of the RE Council of England and Wales, John Keast,
said that members were "delighted" that the EBacc had been
abandoned, and that it was a step in the right direction. "We have
made it clear that to focus on five core subjects would restrict
others which, like RE, are vital to education."
But the EBacc was only one factor in the current crisis, he
said. "We continue to do battle on the issue of teacher training
which has not been addressed today. The reduction in the places for
RE PGCE places must be reversed, and bursaries restored."
The level of concern over the future of RE had been rising.
After a meeting last week with the Junior Education Minister
Elizabeth Truss, Mr Keast said that unless ministers act on the
problem it will be impossible to sustain RE in community schools;
but he said that the meeting was too short to address the issues
Outside ministerial circles, there is strong political support
for RE. The All Party Parliamentary Group for RE is currently
taking evidence on teacher supply and support, and will report its
findings on 12 March.
A statement from the Catholic Education Service on Thursday
mustered only one cheer for the Secretary of State's redrawn plans.
"That the Secretary of State proposes to reform exams with the help
of school and university leaders is particularly welcome. We are,
however, disappointed that RE remains effectively relegated outside
the 'core' under these proposals, when it is at the heart of the
curriculum in our more than 2000 schools in England."
The RE Council launched an online campaign (www.rethinkre.org)
The most recent blow was the announcement, just before
Christmas, that bursaries for PGCE students were to be withdrawn
from those graduates who wanted to specialise in RE. Formerly, they
had received grants of between £4000 and £5000 for postgraduate
The chairman of University Lecturers in RE, Michael Castelli,
said that since the Government came to power, PGCE places in RE had
been cut from 675 to 321, six university courses had closed, and
further closures were likely.
But this week an Anglican education charity, the Culham St
Gabriel's Trust, announced that it was heading an initiative by a
group of similar trusts to provide financial support to potential