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Religious education needs better support in schools, says Children’s Commissioner

03 May 2023

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THE Children’s Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza, has called for better support for religious education (RE) in schools.

Speaking on the 50th anniversary of the Religious Education Council (REC) on Wednesday, she said that RE was “the one place in the curriculum” in which young people could discuss “important and exciting philosophical, religious, and moral conundrums in safe spaces”.

Approximately 250,000 students take RE GCSE each year (News, 25 August 2022). A recent data review by the National Association of Teachers of RE, however, found that approximately 500 secondary schools offer no RE provision in Year 11. A recent parliamentary question also revealed that half of secondary RE teachers spend most of their timetable delivering another subject.

Dame Rachel was the keynote speaker at REC’s AGM in London, which brought together students, teachers, and faith leaders.

She said: “Children have told me that they want school to be the place where they can learn about life skills, relationships, and how to set themselves up for the future. The RE curriculum is the one place that children can learn these important things.

“It provides children with a chance to understand more about the world, other cultures and religions, and also about themselves. RE helps us understand the different faiths and communities which make up modern Britain, and, crucially, RE is a place where these young people can discuss important and exciting philosophical, religious and moral conundrums in safe spaces.”

Sarah Lane Cawte, who chairs the REC, said that the world had changed significantly in the past 50 years. “RE has continually evolved to serve the needs of our society.

”We must continue to change, working towards the vision of the Commission on RE, with an approach that recognises the complexity of religious and non-religious worldviews in the 21st century.

“This change starts by those in government and schools recognising the value of the subject in preparing young people for a rich, diverse, multicultural society, and global workplace.”

An RE-teacher-recruitment campaign, Beyond the Ordinary, is under way to attract the next generation of RE teachers. It seeks applicants from a variety of backgrounds, and stresses the subject’s ability to help young people to answer the big questions in life.

The campaign is supported by the Father of the House, the Conservative MP Sir Peter Bottomley. He said: “We must support our RE teachers in delivering a modern, relevant RE curriculum. High-quality religious education builds cohesion in our societies and helps prepare young people for the world beyond Britain, too.

“We need a national plan for religious education to curb the present teacher-recruitment crisis and ensure this high-quality provision reaches every young person in every school.”

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