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RE groups welcome Gove’s u-turn on EBacc

15 February 2013


"A bridge too far": the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, outlines his revised proposals for GCSE reform, in the House of Commons last week

"A bridge too far": the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, outlines his revised proposals for GCSE reform, in the House of Commons last week

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 certificate.

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 five.

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 restored."

The RE Council launched an online campaign (www.rethinkre.org) this week.

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 issues adequately.

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 train-ing.

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 RE teachers.


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