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Religious Education: Good examples, and just the bare minimum

24 May 2024

Fiona Moss reflects on Ofsted’s recent subject report on RE


Pupils during an RE lesson at Broughton High School, Lancashire

Pupils during an RE lesson at Broughton High School, Lancashire

THE subject report on religious education from Ofsted, Deep and Meaningful?, published last month, is a difficult read for senior leaders, teachers, and those of us involved in supporting RE. Yet the most important message that it has is for the Government.

The report highlights, once again, the importance of RE, showing it to be an academically rigorous and personally inspiring subject, which is helping young people to make sense of the complex and changing nature of belief in modern Britain. It also states that there is “unrealised potential” in the subject as it is currently taught.

Fiona Moss, CEO of the National Association of Teachers of RE

This is not a new observation. Ofsted itself made reference to its 2013 report, in which it called for the Government to work with professional associations to “clarify its expectations about RE and consider what high-quality curriculum, pedagogy and assessment might look like in schools”.

Despite continual calls from teacher organisations, such as the National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE), and others working in the field of RE, however, and the suggestion of solutions and partnership working — for examplem to provide hubs for RE such as can be found for other subjects — the Government has done virtually nothing to support the subject.

It is important that school leaders be clear about their responsibilities regarding RE. By law, the subject must be taught to all pupils in all year groups, unless pupils have been withdrawn by their parents. This includes 14- to 16-year-olds, even if they have not opted to take an exam in RE.

I was unsurprised that Ofsted found many schools not fulfilling these requirements — particularly, but not exclusively, for Key Stage 4 pupils.

There are also many instances of schools’ doing the bare minimum, by conflating RE with other subjects such as PSHE, often taught in tutor time by teachers with specialisms other than RE. Schools are suffering recruitment challenges in this area. The Government chose to reinstate the lowest bursary for training to teach secondary RE, as of September 2024, only after significant pressure.

Despite this difficult picture, the report offers hope. It shows good examples of the teaching of RE at both the primary and secondary levels.

Primary schools, for example, are changing language to avoid generalisations — instead of saying “Christians believe”, they might say “many Christians believe. . .” to avoid the misconception that there is not a diversity of belief within a particular religious, or non-religious, world-view. They are considering the different messages of different Gospel narratives.

In some secondary schools, concepts were taught well, meaning that the connection could be seen between concepts such as atonement and forgiveness. Around the country, in schools where RE is supported, it is often taught well.

The report is clear about the things that contribute to better quality of RE:

  • strong teacher subject knowledge;
  • access to professional development;
  • regular time for RE lessons; and
  • a well-organised curriculum, containing knowledge chosen by leaders to enable pupils to deepen their understanding term by term.

I am pleased to see the emphasis given, in this report, to subject-specific professional development for all teachers of RE in primary and secondary schools. As has been noted in the report, many primary-school teachers, and teachers with other specialisms in secondary schools, have not had access to the training that they need to develop subject knowledge, or pedagogical content knowledge.

Subject-specific training, including that offered by subject associations such as NATRE, plays a vital part in teachers’ helping pupils to make greater progress in RE, and needs to be made available to more teachers. Once again, this is an area in which the Government needs to step up and fulfil its responsibilities. It is baffling that, in mid-April, the Department for Education removed funding for the subject-knowledge enhancement for people wanting to train to be RE teachers.

Earlier this month, the Religious Education Council released a Religion and Worldviews toolkit containing a handbook for curriculum-writers, a National Statement of Entitlement, a National Content Standard, and materials from teachers exemplifying these frameworks. If this Ofsted report gives a series of questions and challenges, it is clear that the RE community itself had already begun to work on possible answers.


Fiona Moss is chief executive of the National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE) and Senior Adviser to RE Today.

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