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RE teaching falls short of Ofsted standards. . . again

12 May 2021

Anxious teachers are ‘overly positive’ about some religions

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TEACHERS are implanting “unhelpful misconceptions” about religion and are failing to prepare pupils for a multi-religious and multi-secular society, a new Ofsted report on religious education says.

The report, a review of literature related to RE, highlights “chronic and intractable problems with school-level provision”. Its 2013 report concluded that many pupils were leaving school with “scant subject knowledge in RE”. It identified low standards, weak teaching and leadership, curriculum problems, a confused sense of purpose about what religious education was about, training gaps, and weaknesses in the way RE was examined (News, 11 October 2013). These concerns are reiterated in the report published on Wednesday.

A 2017 report found that 44 per cent of all academies reported no timetabled RE, and RE organisations and associations have warned that in several schools the subject is “so weakly framed that RE is undetectable or completely absent from the curriculum”.

The review offers a detailed picture of the characteristics of high-quality RE, which is describes as enabling “pupils to take their place within a diverse multi-religious and multi-secular society. At its best, it is intellectually challenging and personally enriching. It affords pupils both the opportunity to see the religion and non-religion in the world and the opportunity to make sense of their own place in that world.”

But it warns that many pupils are being failed, and will leave school with misconceptions. Teachers of RE lack awareness of the different types of knowledge which appear in RE curriculums, the review says.

“Without this awareness, misconceptions about the nature of religion can be taught. These misconceptions can be based on claims (for example, ‘only loving religion is true religion’) that are unwarranted by high standards of academic scholarship. A lack of consideration of the nature of knowledge can also result in pupils’ misunderstandings about the credibility of religion (for example, ‘science is about facts; religion is about opinions’), as well as the difference between types of knowledge in RE and in other subjects.”

The delivery of RE is significant beyond school, because it is “part of the basis on which young people go on to speak and to act in society in matters of religion and non-religion”, the review says. Pupils often bring “simplified views” about religion into the classroom, and teachers need to teach accurately, “without advocating a tradition or ignoring unpleasant manifestations of traditions” and, instead, providing “well-informed representations that do not present pupils with unsustainable stereotypes and poor generalisations”.

Teachers sometimes present “overly positive portrayals of religion, which may be linked to the desire for pupils to interact positively with members of religious traditions”, it says. “Though these claims about religion may be taught for well-meaning reasons, they are unwarranted and unscholarly. Subject leaders should ensure that pupils are not hindered from acting and engaging meaningfully in the world as a global citizen because of misconceptions they learned through a poor-quality RE curriculum.”

Surveys suggest that 56 per cent of RE teachers, compared with 26 per cent of secondary-school teachers generally, do not have a relevant post-A-level qualification.

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