THE decision by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, after his
appointment in 2010 as the Secretary of State for Education, to
create a core of five academic subjects as the basis for an English
baccalaureate (EBacc), was bad news for religious education. In
future, schools would be rated on their students' performance in
just these five subjects.
Many educationists were concerned about this limited approach to
school assessment, and none were more worried than
religious-education specialists. Religious Studies (RS), as the
GCSE exam is named, had been excluded from the magic circle.
But now there is a possibility that things are beginning to
change. Since his meeting with the bishops at Lambeth in July last
year, Mr Gove's department has begun to take RE more seriously. If
not quite a road-to-Damascus experience, his admission that he had
been over-confident about RE's protected status in the curriculum
seems to have led to some significant changes.
First of all, by writing the foreword to A Review of
Religious Education in England, he put his stamp of approval
on the report that the Religious Education Council of England and
Wales (REC) published in October last year. This was produced by
the council after 18 months' work and consultation with
organisations representing the varied faiths and beliefs in
England, and with those professionally involved in RE.
The report provided RE with a curriculum framework parallel to
the National Curriculum in all the other subjects. And it has
stimulated much good debate about RE and its purpose and priorities
in schools throughout England.
Second, the Department for Education (DfE) has agreed to fund an
expert advisory group in RE (in the same way as they do for all the
core subjects). The group has just begun its work to show how the
curriculum framework in the RE review can be put into practice in
classrooms. It will also identify good resources, and commission
new ones where there are gaps.
Most of the people involved in the advisory group are classroom
teachers nominated by the National Association of Teachers of
Religious Education, representing the different Key Stages of
education of pupils (aged three to 14), and different types of
There is a Church of England/Methodist sub-group, led by Derek
Holloway, from the diocese of Salisbury, to focus on the
distinctive approach to RE in church schools.
Third, the DfE has also invited the REC to take the lead in the
review of the RS subject-criteria for GCSEs and A levels. These
rather technical documents are what set the parameters for the exam
boards to create the syllabuses for what is taught in RS to
students aged 14 to 18.
Again, teachers are playing a vital part in the group designing
these criteria, and this includes Church of England
representatives. They are getting to work speedily, as these new
courses have to be ready to be taught from September 2016
In all these ways, Mr Gove and his department have allowed RE to
return to the fold, alongside all the other areas of the
curriculum, after a period when we felt very left out.
But perhaps the most significant change he has made is hidden
away in the apparently obscure detail of the way statistics are
collected from schools, based on their exam results.
The EBacc focused on five subject areas: English, maths,
science, a language, and either history or geography. This pushed
RE and other subjects to the back of the queue when decisions about
curriculum time, resources, and teacher recruitment were made.
Because of schools' intense concentration on exam results, and
their place in the league tables, this was probably inevitable.
The good news is that the EBacc is now being overtaken by a new,
fairer measure, Progress 8, which increases the number of subjects
that can count, and allows schools to include RE among them.
More significantly, Progress 8 will compare secondary schools on
the basis of how much improvement their pupils make from when they
arrive at 11 to how they fare when they leave at 16; this will now
cover eight GCSE subjects, and RE may definitely be one of
Since schools are legally required to teach RE to all pupils up
to the age of 18, it would make sense for them to capitalise on
this investment by entering all pupils for GCSE RS.
Now, if only Mr Gove would reverse his department's decision to
withdraw bursary funding from graduates who are training to teach
RE, we could begin to rejoice over "one sinner that repenteth".
Jeremy Taylor was formerly Diocesan Director of Education in
Chichester. He now chairs the PR committee of the RE Council of
England and Wales, and the RE Strategy Group of the National
Society. Deborah Weston teaches religious studies in a large
comprehensive school in east London. She is the Company Secretary
of the RE Council of England and Wales, and a member of the
National Executive of the National Association of Teachers of