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More cash for RE-teaching recruits

02 November 2006

GRADUATES training to be religious-education specialists in secondary schools are to be awarded increased bursaries of £9000, and "golden hellos" of £2500, when they take up teaching posts, the Teacher Training Agency (TTA) has announced.

The move is part of a Government-backed initiative to recruit teachers of subjects that have a shortage. It follows a national advertising campaign in the spring. This targeted prospective RE specialists, as part of the long-running "Use Your Head - Teach" recruitment programme.

The decision to offer financial inducements to RE specialists follows pressure from the Church of England and the Anglican Culham Institute for RE to be treated on the same basis as other shortage subjects, such as mathematics, science, modern languages, technology, and English. The TTA's advertising followed the Culham-based "Teach RE" campaign, in aiming recruitment literature at philosophy, psychology, and sociology graduates, as well as those with a background in theology.

Until recently, the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) had refused to give RE priority-shortage status, though it acknowledged that there was a recruitment problem. Welcoming the latest move, the Church of England's chief education officer, Canon John Hall, said: "This recognises not only the importance of RE as a subject, but its growing popularity in schools."

The popularity of RE as an examination subject has increased sharply over the past five years. It is the fastest growing subject at A level. Last year, more than 250,000 students took either the full or short course in RE at GCSE.

In many schools, RE departments have been deemed suitable to deliver parts of the compulsory curriculum on citizenship. This success, however, has put pressure on the shrinking pool of RE specialists, which includes a higher than average proportion of older teachers nearing the end of their careers. In the first three months of this year, more than 400 posts for secondary-school RE specialists were advertised.

For the past three years, more training places have been designated for RE specialists, and these now total about 800. But, while applications have been rising, they need to increase further still to fill the available vacancies - one quarter of which are at Anglican institutions.

According to the Culham Institute's director, the Revd Dr John Gay, the new financial package for RE recruits, together with the endorsement by the Government last autumn of the first national framework for RE, indicate that ministers are convinced that the subject is both popular and educationally desirable.

Dr Gay has called for booster courses to give essential subject information to recruits without a theological background. "With those in place, we would be well on the way to the coherent national strategy for RE which has long been our goal."

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