THE Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, was told
this week that religious education in schools was "under threat as
never before" from the Government's changes to the education
system. The warning came in the report of a three-month inquiry by
the 50-member All Party Parliamentary Group on RE.
The report, RE: The truth unmasked, says that the subject has
been the unintended victim of a combination of policy changes
rather than a deliberate attack, it says. "Nevertheless, the
combined impact of so many severe setbacks in such a short time has
been to convey the message that, even though it is a statutory
subject, RE is of less value than other sub- jects."
Stephen Lloyd, the MP for Eastbourne and the group's founder,
said that the investigation - which took evidence from inspectors,
specialist organisations, and staff at 430 schools - confirmed that
RE was increasingly marginalised, and support structures were being
dismantled. "The evidence is compelling, and can no longer be
dismissed by ministers," he said.
Delivered to the Department for Education (DfE) on Monday, the
report blames "a raft of recent policies" for downgrading RE's
status in the curriculum and exacerbating a serious lack of subject
More than half of those teaching RE do so without any
qualification or expertise in the subject, and many struggle to
meet competence demanded by the Department's own teaching
standards, it suggests. At about a quarter of primary schools, RE
lessons are delegated to teaching assistants.
The Government's decision to cut postgraduate training-places
for RE specialists, at the same time denying them the bursaries
available for other subjects, has made matters worse, the MPs say.
(So far, the cuts have led to the closure of five university
courses, and a drop in applications for those that remain. Further
RE training places have been lost through school-based training
"Scrapping bursaries for RE while retaining them for others -
in-cluding Ancient Greek - cannot be regarded as an unintended
consequence. They must be restored," John Keast, a former
government adviser and chair of the RE Council, said. He dismissed
as "risible" the DfE's claim this week that there are now 1000 more
RE teachers than in 2010. "The DfE counts anybody who teaches one
lesson of RE a week as an RE teacher, whether they are trained or
not; so the more non-specialists used, the more RE teachers it says
WITH its capacity to help pupils to
appreciate the differences and similarities between religions in an
increasingly multi-faith society, RE was encouraged by the previous
Government as a way of encouraging greater tolerance. The numbers
taking religious studies (RS) at examination level rose. A more
general short course, leading to half a GCSE award, improved
statutory RE in secondary schools, and had a strong take-up.
Recruitment to PGCE courses in RE was encouraged with bursaries and
But the subject's position changed swiftly
after 2010 as the Coalition's policies took effect. A significant
problem was ministers' refusal to include RS as a humanities option
in the core curriculum subjects (formerly the EBacc). As a result,
school leaders cut time for RE, and replaced heads of RE
departments with history and geography specialists.
Moreover, because more RE lessons were taught
by non-specialists, sources of help dried up. Local authorities no
longer had the resources to provide advice or in-service training.
In many parts of the country, Church of England dioceses are now
the main providers of RE support to community schools as well as
church schools, the report notes.
Ministers have consistently batted away
complaints that RE is being undermined by their decisions, and
emphasised that the statutory position of RE is
But this week's report, the Church of
England's chief education officer, the Revd Jan Ainsworth, said,
should be a "wake-up call" for the DfE. "It provides compelling
evidence that cannot be dismissed. RE is about religious literacy
for all, and has never been more important than in today's