A QUARTER of all state secondary schools are struggling to meet their legal obligation to teach religious studies, data obtained by the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE) has shown.
Its analysis of the previously unpublished School Workforce Census, obtained from the Government by a Freedom of Information request, found that, out of the 2793 schools that took part in the census, 28 per cent (787 schools) said that they gave no time to religious education (RE) in Year 11, the GCSE year.
This equates with 800,000 pupils, NATRE estimates in its report, The State of the Nation: A report on Religious Education provision within secondary schools in England, published on Monday. And, of the schools claiming to offer non-examined RE to Year 11 pupils, 83 per cent admitted that their students received zero minutes of teaching per week, meaning that, in practice, it was not on the curriculum — what the report calls a “tick-box exercise”.
“Non-examined RE is often not sufficient to meet the aims of the subject, and leads to schools simply not teaching it, which fails pupils,” the report says.
The provision of RE varied across the UK depending on the type of school or academy in question: those with religious character, such as church schools; those with specific funding agreements for RE; and those following a locally agreed RE syllabus.
Schools with a religious character typically provide a higher level of provision of RE, the report says: 96 per cent offer the subject at Key Stage 4 (GCSE level), and 90 per cent dedicate at least 40 minutes of teaching a week to the subject.
This was compared to academies, 73 per cent of which offered RE at GCSE, and only 27 per cent of these offered more than 40 minutes of teaching a week on the subject. Schools following a locally agreed syllabus for RE were somewhere in between: 45 per cent dedicate 40 minutes or more of their timetables to RE.
“As these schools convert to academy status and are no longer required to follow their locally agreed syllabus, there is a real concern that their level of RE provision may drop,” the report warns.
Pupils at religious schools are also “significantly more likely” to be taught RE by a teacher with a relevant post A-Level qualification than students in an academy.
Full-course Religious Studies GCSE students should receive more than two hours of tuition on the subject per week, and short-course pupils at least one hour, it says. But almost half of schools (48 per cent) are teaching RE full-course on short-course hours.
“It is neither educationally, morally, or legally justifiable for schools to provide minimal time on the school timetable for RE, or to expect teachers with insufficient training or expertise to deliver the subject,” the report says.
“Neither is it acceptable for any young person to leave school without the knowledge and skills delivered through RE which will allow them to understand the beliefs and values of our diverse British society, without which they will be ill equipped to take their place in the modern world.”
At the same time, the number of schools removing GCSE RS from their curriculum has risen steadily between 2014 and 2016 (three per cent overall), while 14 per cent of academies did not enter a single pupil for any GCSE in RS.
NATRE is calling on the Department for Education to hold schools to account for the poor figures; routinely publish data on RE provision; publicly state the importance of religious literacy; and improve teaching training on the subject.
It also urges head teachers and governors to review their provision, and recommends that Ofsted should monitor and investigate more closely the quality of teaching. Parents and guardians should also be encouraged to question and request more information on the RE provision at their school.
The Commission on Religious Education, set up by the Religious Education Council for England and Wales last year (News, 15 July 2016), was due to publish its interim report on Thursday. It offers similar recommendations for the defence of RE as a “vital academic subject” in the UK.
This includes holding schools to account for the provision and quality of RE; a national plan to improve teaching and learning in RE; and a “renewed and expanded” position for standing advisory councils on religious education.
The Commission also recommends that the Government issues a “national entitlement” for all pupils at all state-funded schools setting out the aims and purposes of RE, and offers a draft of this statement.
Writing in the Church Times comment pages this week, the Dean of Westminster, the Very Revd John Hall, who chairs the Commission, explains: “This national entitlement will provide a reinvigorated vision for RE for all pupils in the future, drawing on the very best of the RE that we know happens in some schools.”
The draft suggests that pupils should understand the importance of religious authority, experience, communication, values, identity, practice, and world-views. It also expects pupils to meet people in the community from a variety of religious and ethnic backgrounds; to study a range of approaches to RE, including theology, philosophy, and sociology; reflect on personal experience; and develop listening skills, empathy, respect, and fair judgement on all issues.
The chief education officer for the Church of England, the Revd Nigel Genders, welcomed the proposal: “If agreed, it shouldn’t be something parents can withdraw their children from because they don’t want them to learn about how faith shapes people who hold a different view.
“What other academic subject brings different world views together, asks the big questions about life and helps to combat ignorance and extremism? RE does all this.”
Special education supplement in the Church Times next week.