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Review signals drive to improve standard of RE

19 September 2014

"Firm companions": "God and the Big Band" at St Saviour's and St Olave's School, London see story, below

"Firm companions": "God and the Big Band" at St Saviour's and St Olave's School, London see story, below

A DRIVE to strengthen religious education in Church of England schools, announced this week, will include more central support, a rethink of the curriculum, and better subject training for teachers. The move follows a review, commissioned by the Board of Education, and led by a leading OFSTED inspector, of RE in 30 secondary and 30 primary church schools, which found significant under-performance at primary level.

The review team rated RE good or better in 70 per cent of Anglican secondary schools and academies visited, but found the subject in need of significant improvement in more than half the primaries. While the standard of RE in most of the secondary schools visited was much higher than the average for non-church schools, the level in church primaries was comparable with those without a religious designation.

A report based on the review published this week, Making a Difference, says, however, that in almost all the schools visited RE was regarded as important by school leaders and governors. "Where RE was struggling in primary schools, a core reason was that, despite the high priority given to the subject, this was not being translated into practice." The report notes "a lack of clarity about what constitutes high quality, and how to lead and manage the subject effectively".

In contrast, the leadership of RE was good in most church secondary schools, and the subject received strong support from senior staff. Moreover, in church secondary schools, RE had been protected from the "negative changes in education policy, such as its exclusion from the EBacc".

But the report notes that, although governors are increasingly responsible for school standards, there was little evidence of their monitoring and supporting RE. And, surprisingly, few of the schools visited, both secondary and primary, were aware of the Statement of Entitlement to RE drawn up by the key Anglican schools organisation, the National Society.

The C of E's chief education officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, welcomed the review team's conclusion that RE was exceptionally well taught in church secondary schools. He said, however: "We need to take decisive steps to improve the subject in our primary schools, and this report provides essential data. But the Government has a major role to play, too: the review has shown the importance of policies that ensure the subject is valued for the vital part it plays in society."

Chief education officer backs proposals

Speaking during a visit to a C of E primary in Moss Side, Manchester, recently named by the Times Educational Supplement as primary school of the year, the chief education officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, strongly supported proposals for improving social mobility through education, set out in a ten-point Mobility Manifesto published by the Sutton Trust.

He said: "Much of what the Trust recommends is already happening in our schools. A project, 'Unlocking Gifts', supported by the Archbishop of Canterbury, will be under way shortly, aimed at finding the most effective interventions to improve the performance of disadvantaged groups of pupils."

But Mr Gender raised doubts about the wisdom of allocating school places by lottery, a system supported by just under half of people who took part in a Sutton Trust commissioned poll.

"Parents put a lot of thought into choosing the right school for their children," he said, "and their involvement is a contributing factor to the success of many schools."

Scientists back project to 'debunk myth'

SCIENTISTS from universities in Cambridge, Durham, and Harvard are among leading academics who are backing a project that seeks to "debunk the myth" that science and religious faith are incompatible.

The project, "God and the Big Bang", offers day-conferences for GCSE and A-level science and religious-studies students to schools and academies.

Already piloted in schools in the Manchester area, the scheme is backed by the diocese of Manchester, the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, Christians in Science, and the University of Reading's Institute of Education. It was launched nationally at an event at Canon Slade School, Bolton, on Tuesday of last week.

The Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd David Walker, who read mathematics and theoretical physics at Cambridge, said at the launch: "Science and religious faith are firm companions along the way as we journey to understand the universe and our place in it."

The free conferences, which include a presentation by a scientist with faith, and a hands-on science session, are available to all schools, whether or not they have a religious designation.

For further information, phone the co-ordinator for "God and the Big Bang", Stephanie Bryant, on 0161 828 1407.

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