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Rise in numbers of RE- specialist students

09 August 2007

by Margaret Holness, Education Correspondent

MORE students would like to be religious-education teachers, suggest figures released this week. An analysis by Education Data Surveys (EDS) shows that the number of applicants to train as secondary-school religious-education specialists has risen for the fourth successive year. A total of 1114 students were seeking places on RE courses this month, compared with 1081 at the same time last year.

The increase suggests that universities and colleges with RE specialist courses will fill all the places available, said the teacher-supply expert, Professor John Howson. Postgraduate RE courses, about one third of which are in Church of England or joint C of E/Roman Catholic universities, have room for around 800 postgraduate students.

The improvement in attracting students into RE training has been consistent since 2004, and has been encouraged by government recruitment campaigns; private initiatives such as the Culham Institute’s “Teach RE” campaign, aimed at pyschology, philosophy, and sociology graduates; and the £4000 golden hellos offered to potential RE teachers after it was designated a shortage subject.

The supply of RE teachers remains critical, however. More than half of all RE lessons taught by non-specialists with only a sketchy knowledge of the subject.

Of the 1117 secondary RE posts advertised in the academic year 2006-2007, 16 per cent had to be advertised more than once, including posts in church schools. It was hardest to fill RE posts in London, especially those with management responsibilities.

A further problem, suggests Professor Howson, is for schools to designate posts for heads of RE departments at a lower grade than those for other subjects. Only 84 heads of RE department posts were advertised at the senior grade, while 332 were offered at a lower level.

In spite of increasing enthusiasm for RE among government ministers and pupils, the situation is likely to become worse because of a predicted “retirement boom” of RE teachers, a higher proportion of whom are in the later stages of their careers.

While the current boost in recruitment for RE courses is good news for church universities, it goes against an overall downward trend

in recruitment for teacher training — a significant area of their work. Overall applications for teacher training are down by 3500 this year, although the drop for primary-teacher courses, in which the church institutions are most heavily involved, is under 1000.

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