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One third of schools neglect RE lessons

29 November 2013

Warning: Stephen Lloyd, MP

Warning: Stephen Lloyd, MP

MORE than one in three non-church secondary schools and academies are failing to fulfil their legal obligation to provide religious education to under-16s, and one in four do not offer RE to 14- to 16-year-olds, new research published this week suggests.

The survey by the National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE) reveals a sharp decline in the overall state of their subject at secondary level. More than half (57 per cent) of the schools surveyed had no plans to offer the GCSE Short Course in Religious Studies - formerly the most popular short-course subject; and 12 per cent reported no entries for the Full Course. Many schools that still offer GCSE RS fail to allocate the recommended teaching time for the subject.

There has also been a cut in specialist teaching, the survey finds. One in five non-church schools and academies reported a reduction in the number of staff qualified to teach RE, and many RE lessons are taught by teachers who have timetable gaps rather than expertise in the subject.

The chairman of NATRE, Ed Pawson, said that the findings proved the admission by the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, that RE had been an unintended casualty of his education reforms. "The EBacc has edged RE out of the school curriculum, and pupils are losing out on valuable education about the world's faith and belief systems," he said.

Stephen Lloyd MP, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group investigating RE, said: "When RE is diluted, young people leave school ill-prepared to respond to different views and beliefs in an informed and rational way. Ministers and officials must act to ensure RE is not sidelined."

Question of the week: Should RE be restored as a core subject? 

THE Government is being pressed to restore the bursary for trainee religious education teachers after a steep drop in the take-up of places in the subject, writes Margaret Holness. Only 80 per cent of the 390 places for RE specialists were filled this year, compared with 100 per cent in the two preceding years. The bursaries, introduced in 2000 to combat the shortage of qualified teachers of RE, were discontinued in 2012.

John Keast, who chairs the RE Council, said that discussions with the Department for Education (DfE) had begun. "We hope to see bursaries restored in time for the 2014-15 intake," he said. The predominantly Anglican Association of Church College Trusts has also taken up the issue and is to meet DfE officials early next month, it is understood.

Professor John Howson, a higher-education analyst, has said that RE is one of several subjects that under-recruited this year, including Design and Technology where less than half the available places were filled. New graduates are increasingly reluctant to add up to £9000 more to their debt when there is no guarantee of a job at the end of their post-graduate training, he said.

The unfilled places this year notwithstanding, the Government has substantially increased RE places for the next academic year to 672. About half of these have been allocated to university education departments, with 160 going to universities in the Cathedral Group.

Only ten undergraduate RE places have been allocated - all at the secular Edge Hill University. The allocations vary significantly between Cathedral Group institutions, varying between 22 places at Liverpool Hope University and ten at Bishop Grosseteste University and at Newman University. Professor Tim Wheeler, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Chester, said that Chester had filled all 20 RE places this year, and expected to do so next September, but he said that courses with the lowest allocations could close.

The remaining RE places for next year are split between various school-based courses, for which students pay significant fees, and only 15 RE places are on the Schools Direct salaried route. The wisdom of locating what amounts to more than 200 RE training places in schools has been widely criticised because not all designated training schools have good RE departments. "Many schools will find it challenging to provide RE expertise," Professor Wheeler said.


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