CHURCHES and RE organisations welcomed the announcement on
Thursday of last week 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
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
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.
The ministerial re-think improves the chances of a revival in
the fortunes of religious education, the chairman of the All Party
Parliamentary Group on RE, Stephen Lloyd, told BBC Radio's 4
Sunday programme last weekend. It offers a real chance to
save RE from the combination of factors currently undermining it,
said Mr Lloyd, the Liberal Democrat MP for Eastbourne.
Referring to widespread support for RE among his fellow MPs, he
said that the Parliamentary Group now numbered 120, representing
all mainstream faiths and political affiliations. The Group is
currently conducting a review on the state of RE, and will publish
the results on 12 March. "I am sure that the quality of the
evidence we are hearing will convince the Government to act," Mr
Lloyd said this week.
Last week, the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard,
briefed the bishops that, despite the Government's insistence that
RE remain 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." He
mentions the effect of excluding RE from the EBacc core syllabus,
and halving the training places for specialist teachers.
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 last week, Mrs Ainsworth said: "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 want."
A statement from the Catholic Education Service on Thursday of
last week, however, mustered only one cheer for the 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 chairman of the RE Council of England and Wales, John Keast,
said that his 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."
The EBacc was, however, 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
The RE Council launched an online campaign (www.rethinkre.org)
After a meeting earlier this month with the Junior Education
Minister, Elizabeth Truss, Mr Keast said that, unless ministers act
on the problem, it would be impossible to sustain RE in community
schools; but he said that the meeting was too short to address the
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