RELIGIOUS EDUCATION makes a lasting impression on young people, who see it as a valued subject years after they have left school, says a report published this week. The report suggests that RE has a positive effect on young people’s understanding of faiths other than their own, and influences their moral understanding.
Commissioned by the RE Council for England and Wales (REC), the study looks at attitudes to RE among a cross-section of 1000 16- to 24-year-olds from different faith backgrounds who took part in an online omnibus poll, conducted by Dubit Research.
It finds that 80 per cent of respondents thought that RE could promote a better understanding of religions. When asked about their recollections of RE lessons, the most common memory of those questioned was of learning about different religions. The second concerned debates on right and wrong.
The chairman of the REC, Dr Brian Gates, said that the research showed that RE had a measurable impact on those who studied it. “RE in schools shouldn’t be viewed as controversial or a ‘minefield’, but as a rigorous academically based subject that will equip and inform future generations about the origins and meanings of different beliefs.”
The findings could also help to explain why the popularity of RE has risen sharply over the past decade, as 60 per cent of students choose the subject at GCSE, said Dr John Gay, director of the Culham Institute.
Dr Gay and other leading professionals, however, are concerned that the subject was not mentioned in the recent Education White Paper (News, 3 December), and is not included in the choices for the proposed English Baccalaureate.
Government ministers have said there will be no change in the law that currently makes RE compulsory in schools. A widespread move to academies could make its position more precarious, however.
Howard Dellar, the education specialist for the National Society’s solicitors, Lee Bolton Monier-Williams, said: “In academies, RE is only secured through funding agreements, which do not have the force of primary law.”