From Mr Jack Parkes
Sir, - I have been following discussions on the Government's
reforms for religious education with interest, but I am now
wondering whether we might not be missing the point. (News, 14 November).
The previous Secretary of State for Education made an active
decision to exclude RE from the English Baccalaureate options,
significantly marginalising it. Not only has his successor shown no
enthusiasm for putting this error of judgement right: she is on
record as having advised young people that they should avoid
humanities subjects because they do not lead to the best career
choices. Presumably this wisdom comes from her previous job as a
careers adviser. Oh, she wasn't a careers adviser. My mistake.
I am assuming that the Curriculum Working Party believes that RE
students are being given an appropriate time allocation for
studying the subject. If so, they have been labouring under a
serious misapprehension. Most of us who teach RE have to contend
with one lesson a week, while being expected to achieve good GCSE
grades. Other humanities subjects, however, have two or three times
more teaching time allocated.
It seems that this is the accepted order of things in curriculum
timetabling, regardless of the fact that all the exam boards expect
the humanities subjects to be taught at between 120 and 140 hours
for a full-course GCSE. On the one-lesson-a-week model, RE is
allocated well below that minimum figure. Until RE is granted a
level playing-field in the allocation of curriculum time,
curriculum development is just so much hot air. "Sir, why should we
take this seriously when the school doesn't?"
RE is further disadvantaged because it is increasingly being
taught by non-specialist teachers: when I and one of my specialist
RE colleagues recently moved on from a large high school, the
subject was left to be taught by one specialist RE teacher and 12
non-specialists, often teaching to GCSE level. This is not
uncommon. How can it be acceptable practice? Again, if we are
serious about the effective teaching of RE, schools need properly
trained and qualified practitioners.
So, at risk of labouring the point:
1) RE has been institutionally marginalised throughout the
length of my 30-year teaching career.
2) There aren't enough specialist RE teachers.
3) Students are not given enough time to study the subject
adequately and gain a depth and breadth of understanding.
Until these inequalities have been addressed, curriculum reform
is merely window-dressing, and I have no confidence that things
will improve in any way for our students and teachers as a result
of these proposed curriculum reforms: the primary problems of RE
are not being addressed.
29 Huntington Crescent
Leeds LS16 5RT
From Mr Michael J. Wilson
Sir, - The report by Margaret Holness and your leader comment
suggest that the proposed changes for religious studies are
far-reaching and new. I disagree.
When I taught the original GCSE RS syllabus set by the Midland
Examination Group (now part of OCR), the requirement was for
students to study Christianity and two others from the "world
religions", through six themes plus course work designed to show
further understanding. It was very tight to fit everything into the
80 weeks of clear timetable time, but it was exciting to teach,
and, from the results, accessible to all-ability students.
Certainly, the academic rigour needed to achieve the highest
grades was contained within the curriculum requirements, with
examination questions well designed to test knowledge and
understanding. Three religions meant at least three visits to
places of worship and settings to develop my pupils' wider
appreciation; many epiphanies were witnessed when they spoke with
authority about the relevant faith afterwards.
There was nothing wrong with the GCSE RS when first introduced,
and perhaps it is time to rediscover those requirements, which
would help not only academic standards, but also social cohesion,
which at present is worryingly undervalued in the examination
MICHAEL J. WILSON
(Retired teacher of RE/RS)
54 Queen Street, Balderton
Newark NG24 3NS