Major shake-up proposed for religious education

Religious education (RE) should become Religion and Worldviews to incorporate beliefs such as humanism, secularism, atheism and agnosticism, a report has suggested.

Sunday, 9th September 2018, 6:00 am

The long-awaited recommendations from the Commission on Religious Education suggest a number of changes which will see the biggest shake-up in the subject since the 1970s.

Following a two-year consultation the commission concluded RE must change to better reflect modern Britain.

Commission chairman the Very Rev Dr John Hall said: “Life in Britain, indeed life in our world, is very different from life in the 1970s when religious education began to include other world religions and beliefs besides Christianity.

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“At present, the quality of religious education in too many schools is inadequate in enabling pupils to engage deeply with the worldviews they will encounter.

“Many structural changes in education in the past 20 years have unintentionally undermined the integrity of RE in the school curriculum.

“The commission is proposing a fresh start for the subject with a vision for the teaching of Religion and Worldviews in every school.”

The report, published on Sunday, says RE at England’s schools needs to be strengthened to ensure all pupils receive adequate preparation for life in modern Britain.

It also recommends changes to the laws and policies governing the subject, and that post-16 students should have the opportunity to study the subject in further education.

The core recommendation is a new National Entitlement for all pupils that specifies nine broad requirements for what they should be taught, including the concepts of religion and worldviews, which the commission describes as “complex, diverse and plural”.

All schools would be required to ensure that every pupil has access to the subject and schools would need to publish a detailed statement about how they meet the entitlement.

One of the recommendations the Commission makes is in relation to the right of withdrawal.

The right of parents to withdraw their children from RE and from Collective Worship has been in existence since 1870 and has remained part of the legal settlement in both the 1944 and 1988 Education Acts.

Parents may withdraw their children from some or all of the RE curriculum without giving a reason.

When consulting on the issue, the commission found the majority of those who contributed on the interim report were in favour of abolishing the right to withdrawal.

Many respondents were concerned about partial withdrawal due to racist or Islamophobic beliefs.

The commission recommends that the Department for Education (DfE) should review the right of withdrawal from Religion and Worldviews and provide legal clarification on matters including whether parents have a right to withdraw selectively.

Ben Wood, chairman of the National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE), said: “The right of withdrawal is being abused and used in a way that runs opposite to the intentions of the government in promoting a cohesive society.

“This recommendation should be acted upon quickly by the Department for Education in a way that both supports the government’s priorities and ensures that all pupils are given the right to learn about the religions and worldviews that are so influential in our society.”

The commission - which comprises 14 leading academics, teachers, and advisers and is chaired by Dr Hall, Dean of Westminster - will now present its recommendations to the DfE, proposing that non-statutory programmes of study should be developed at a national level by a body of 10 or fewer professionals, including teachers, and then ratified by the Department.