YOUNG people are being put at risk of “ignorance and bigotry” in later life, because schools are failing to provide religious education (RE) of sufficient quality, the Religious Education Council of England and Wales has warned.
The Council has reported a “chronic” shortage of RE teachers in the UK: just 405 vacancies for RE teachers were filled last year. The government target is 643.
Reaching this target requires one in 20 graduates with a relevant degree to choose to train as an RE teacher, the charity says, but potential applicants are being deterred by poor funding.
Holders of first-class degrees currently receive £9000 towards the cost of RE teacher training, and holders of a 2:1 currently receive £4000. Similar specialist subjects such as Geography and Classics, however, offer a grant of £25,000, the Council says.
The Council is, therefore, calling on the Department for Education (DfE) to hand out higher bursaries for RE teachers in training, and provide funding for specialist courses that would enable graduates from a wider variety of subjects to apply.
It comes after Ofsted reported that almost half (46 per cent) the staff teaching RE in schools had no post-A-level qualification in the subject.
The chief executive of the Council, Rudolf Eliott Lockhart, said on Monday that without qualified RE teachers who provided “accurate and balanced” religious education, young people were likely to assume prejudice or dangerous views from unreliable sources, including social media.
“Not only are they at risk of ignorance that might lead to misunderstanding or even bigotry, but, as they go through life, they risk basing their knowledge, understanding, and opinions on sources that perpetuate inaccurate and misleading stereotypes,” he said. “If and when those prejudices and falsehoods surface in the classroom, well-trained teachers of RE are equipped to challenge and correct them.”
The call is part of a wider campaign by the Council to highlight the attractions of a career in RE teaching, which started last week. It is a relaunch of a previous campaign — Beyond the Ordinary — led by the Council in 2015 after the Government suspended RE funding. The campaign resulted in a 30-per-cent increase in January applications in 2016 (News, 4 March 2016).
It was reported last week that RE was among the academic subjects considered “least important” by the public. The findings of a YouGov survey of 1648 adults in the UK in December were published last Friday, and suggest that just 12 per cent of the public consider RE to be “very important” compared with 26 per cent who believe the subject to be “not at all important”.
RE was considered more important only than drama, Classics, and Latin, which ranked lowest in the poll. English, by comparison, was considered “very important” by 84 per cent of the sample.
And yet interest in the subject remains high for the next generation, the Council says. It reports that 60 per cent of all 16-year-olds (about 300,000 pupils) chose to take RE at GCSE last year, and that A-level entries have quadrupled in the past 15 years.
A spokesman from the DfE said: “Religious education remains compulsory at each key stage for all state-funded schools, including academies and free schools, and we expect all schools to fulfil their statutory duties. In addition, we have changed the law and the requirements in schools so that they have to actively promote mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.”