SENIOR religious-education (RE) professionals are warning that their subject could disappear from the curriculum in community schools if the subject is not included among the humanities that qualify for the planned English baccalaureate.
The new qualification — which is to be introduced by the Secretary for Education, Michael Gove, to drive up academic standards and ensure that pupils receive a more rounded education — requires good passes in English, maths, science, a foreign language, and either history or geography. Religious studies (RS), currently a popular examination choice, is not included as a humanities option.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, which represents secondary-school heads, says that his members believe that the proposed baccalaureate is too narrow: “Religious studies, in particular, is glaringly absent. In the light of the global political situation, surely the objective study of religious issues should be encouraged,” he said.
The RE Council of England and Wales says that it is receiving reports that head teachers are already shifting staffing and time allocations from RS to history and geography. This impression was confirmed by a member of the executive of the National Association of Teachers of RE, Deborah Weston, who said: “We have had scores of calls reporting cuts in staff and time available for RE.”
The Revd Dr John Gay, director the Culham Institute, the research and development centre for RE, said: “With the best will in the world, heads have to put their resources into areas they will be judged on.”
Although RE is a legal requirement, this was often honoured more in the breach by many schools until the past decade, when it shed its Cinderella status, encouraged by the previous Government for its contribution to community cohesion. At the same time, the introduction of a “half GSCE” in RS was popular with pupils, and more than half of all 16-year-olds currently choose to take the full or short examination course in RS.
A recent poll among 18 to-25- year-olds revealed that RE lessons were remembered as valuable for several years after leaving school.
The Education Secretary said that he was prepared to listen to arguments about the contents of the baccalaureate; and the danger that RE may become an unintentional casualty of Coalition policy is likely to be raised when Church of England education leaders meet the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, next week.
The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard, who chairs the Board of Education, will attend the meeting. He said: “Commitment to religious education by schools is crucial to interfaith understanding and harmonious relations between people of different religious backgrounds. It is also essential to young people’s personal development, enabling them to work out their beliefs and the values they will take into adult life.”