A SPIKE in GCSE entries for religious studies (RS) since 2010 is tailing off rapidly, owing in part to zero government funding for the subject in the past five years, new research suggests.
Three bodies — the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC), the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE), and RE Today Services — analysed data from several sources: the 2021 Ofsted subject report (News, 14 May 2021), public surveys, school workforce data, FOI requests, and interviews with teachers and students.
The results were published in The 2022 RE Report Card: A review of the performance of Religious Education, on Wednesday.
A-level RS entries have almost doubled in the past two decades, from 2003; and in the past decade, since 2010, GCSE entries for the full course have increased by one third, the review states. This last figure, however, includes a 20-per-cent fall in GCSE entries between 2016 and 2021. During this period, the review says, the Government did not spend any money on RE, compared with the large sums spent on English (£28.5 million), science (£56 million), maths (£154 million), and music (£387 million).
In addition, the 2021-22 teacher-training bursary for RE was scrapped, despite a failure to meet RE teacher-recruitment targets in nine of the past ten years. One quarter of RE lessons were taught by teachers with no post-A-level qualifications, the review found.
Teaching RE is a legal requirement for all schools in England. Currently, all maintained schools (local authority) have a statutory duty to teach RE; academies and free schools are contractually required to do so through the terms of their funding agreement with the Department for Education. This will remain the case under the new Schools Bill, which, just two months after the publication of the education white paper, will be given its second reading in the House of Lords next week.
The review reveals, however, that, although almost half (46 per cent) of academies without a religious character reported an increase RE teaching time, one third (34 per cent) admitted breaking the law by omitting the subject from the timetable entirely, or not teaching it for the required hours.
The authors of the review are calling on the Government to use the Ofsted inspection system to compel schools to comply with the law on RE teaching. They also argue for the reinstatement of the teaching bursary; and for the Government to embrace the recommendations in the Commission on Religious Education (CoRE) report Religion and Worldviews (News, 14 September 2018).
Deborah Weston, a NATRE research officer who led the data review, said: “With record numbers of students taking the subject, it is a great shame that RE is being neglected by the Government and marginalised by some schools, particularly in the academy system.
“Without a properly funded National Plan, and a system of accountability for high-quality RE under the Government’s academy vision for all schools, we risk denying a generation of students access to this vital subject. A high-quality education in religion and worldviews must now be part of their plans to help every young person fulfil their potential in school, society, and the world of work.”