THE Government was charged this week with "rank discrimination"
against religious education in schools. The accusation, by Mark
Chater, a director of the Culham St Gabriel's Trust, a leading RE
research organisation, was made in protest at ministers' refusal to
reinstate £9000 bursaries for graduates training to be RE teachers.
The decision would intensify the shortage of specialist teachers,
he said. Nearly half of all RE lessons are taught by staff with no
qualifications in the subject.
Dr Chater's strictures were matched by criticism from other
senior figures in the RE community, including John Keast, who
chairs the RE Council, and Stephen Lloyd, who heads the All-Party
Parliamentary Group (APPG) on RE. Together with the Bishop of
Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard, the chairman of the Church of
England's Board of Education, they had pleaded with ministers to
restore bursaries for the academic year beginning this
The ministerial decision - in effect, a refusal to accept their
case - was delivered to Mr Keast earlier this month in a letter
from a junior Education Minister, Elizabeth Truss.
RE experts say that their warning that, without bursaries, fewer
able graduates would opt to specialise in RE was borne out this
month when it was confirmed that applications for RE postgraduate
courses were 20 per cent below target. They see the continued
"financial freeze" on their subject as further evidence that it is
being downgraded by government ministers and their civil
The only other subjects to be refused training bursaries are
Art, Business Studies, Citizenship, and Design and Technology. PE
will join the Cinderella list next year. A spokesman for the
Department for Education said that there was evidence that more
high-quality graduates were being recruited to teach RE: "We
believe it is right to focus incentives such as bursaries on those
subjects where they are needed most, such as maths or physics,
where there has been historic under-achievement."
But Bishop Pritchard said: "If bursaries are to be focused where
they are needed, RE should be first in the queue."
The denial of training bursaries is the latest in a string of
government decisions that, RE experts say, is consigning their
subject to the margins of the curriculum. The biggest blow was the
decision to leave religious studies out of the list of core
academic subjects that qualified for the English Baccalaureate. At
a seminar in Lambeth Palace last summer, the Secretary of State for
Education, Michael Gove, admitted that RE might have been an
unintentional casualty of government policy.
"In the light of the decision on bursaries, that admission now
rings hollow," Ed Pawson, who chairs the National Association of
Teachers of RE, said.
Potential RE trainees learned this week that they could apply to
a new bursaries fund launched by a consortium of four charities:
the Jerusalem Trust and three closed church college trusts: Culham
St Gabriel's, St Luke's Foundation, and Keswick Hall. Between them,
the four charities have contributed an initial £220,000 to
establish the fund. Applications can be made through the Keswick
Hall website, www.keswickhalltrust.org.uk/grants.
Praise for further-education colleges
Further-education colleges make a significant contribution to
community cohesion because of their diverse student bodies, the C
of E's adviser on FE and post-16 education, the Revd Gary Neave,
told the APPG on RE this week.
Three million students attend the country's 339 FE colleges, of
whom 22 per cent are from black or ethnic-minority backgrounds
compared with an overall average of 15 per cent for schools. Mr
Neave said that about 80 per cent of colleges had active
"The fact that FE colleges have no statutory obligation to teach
RE does not mean that matters of faith and belief are unimportant
to our students and staff," he said. "On the contrary, most
colleges meet these needs through spiritual, moral, social, and
cultural education, which helps students develop the attitudes they
need to become engaged, responsible citizens."