A MASSIVE overhaul of religious education in schools is essential to meet the changes in society, argues a new report launched yesterday. Academics from Goldsmiths, University of London, say that the current position is outdated and amounts to "a 20th century settlement for a 21st century reality".
Adam Dinham and Martha Shaw of the Faith and Civil Society Unit at Goldsmiths argue that changes in the real religious landscape have far outpaced the changes in education about it. "The real picture is made up of believing without belonging, with more non-believing. It is a context that is Christian, plural and secular, all at the same time." The rules currently governing RE, based on the 1944 educational settlement between church and state and the 1988 Education Reform Act, were outdated, and changes had been inadequate, they found.
The report RE for Real: The future of learning about religion and belief says that a reformed RE should be compulsory in schools up to age 16, part of the National Curriculum, and included in the Ebacc and taught according to the same national framework that applies to other subjects. It argues, moreover, for significant changes in the subject content, including a broader concept of belief that includes "traditional religions, informal and non-religious forms like spirituality, humanism and secularism".
The research was funded by a grant from the Culham St Gabriel’s Trust. It was based on visits to 19 schools across England, 13 of which had no religious character; and interviews with 331 people, including pupils, teachers, parents, and employers. The study found that 86 per cent of teachers who took part in the study believed that RE should be a National Curriculum subject, and 72 per cent believed that it should be compulsory to the age of 16. A majority of pupils thought that they should study RE up to 16, but that taking a GCSE in the subject should be optional.
It is believed that sweeping reforms to RE, together an enhanced the status for the subject in schools, are likely to be recommended by the report from the Commission on Religion and Belief in Society, chaired by Lady Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, due early next month. Last summer, a pamphlet by a former Secretary of State for Education, Charles Clarke, and Professor Linda Woodhead made similar recommendations (News, 19 June).
The chief education officer of the Church of England, the Revd Nigel Genders, said: "The C of E will seek to work with others towards a nationally agreed syllabus for RE that is clear about its role and essential content."