Commission proposes overhaul of RE lessons

A NEW Commission chaired by the Dean of Westminster has proposed a major overhaul of Religious Education (RE).

The report says that in too many schools RE ‘is not good enough to prepare pupils adequately for the religious and belief diversity they will encounter’.

It explains that the nature of RE has changed over time ‘to reflect new understandings andnew social realities’.At the time of the 1944 Education Act, when it was known asReligious Instruction, it ‘was limited to Christianity and was the onlycompulsory subject’.

But the report goes on, ‘over time, subject experts came to recognise thatyoung people needed to understand both a wider range of religious andnon-religious worldviews and the idea of diversity within worldviews’.

After the Education Reform Act of 1988, the name of the subject changed to Religious Education, but 30 years on, ‘the local,national and global religious landscape and academic understandings ofthe subject have changed significantly’, the report maintains.

The Commission proposes that RE should now be called ‘Religion and Worldviews’ and include a diversity of religious and non-religious views, including atheism and agnosticism.

It says that non-religious worldviews have become ‘increasingly salient in Britain and Western Europe’. The report cites data from a recent British Social Attitudes Survey where over 50 per cent of adults identified as not belonging to a religion, while 41 per cent identified as Christian.

It points out that the proportion of adults identifying as not belonging to a religion has increased from 31 per cent in 1983 to around a steady 50 per cent since 2009.

Chair of the Commission on RE, the Very Rev Dr John Hall, said:“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.”

Responding to the new report, the Church of England’s Chief Education Officer, Nigel Genders, said: “We support the move away from a local determination of the subject. We believe this will help pupils make sense of religion and belief as it is lived today and this proposed change is educationally valid and would bring RE into line with all other curriculum subjects.

“However, the Commission’s proposed Statement of Entitlement requires further work if it is to ensure that children and young people develop religious and theological literacy as part of their knowledge and understanding.”

National Secular Society Chief Executive, Stephen Evans,welcomed the proposals, saying they ‘would represent significant progress’.

However, he said that ‘the deference to religious interests’ has limited the commission’s ambitions, making it inevitable fudge.

On the recommended name of the new subject, Mr Evans said: “The inclusion of the word ‘religion’ appears to be a sop to religious interests – which could undermine efforts to reinvigorate and improve the reputation of this contentious area of the curriculum.

“Calling a subject ‘Religion and Worldviews’ is a bit like calling PE ‘Football and Sport’. Religion would fit in to a study of worldviews but should not get special attention.”

Meanwhile, the Catholic Education Service said that while they welcome the efforts of the Commission to improve the quality of RE in all schools, ‘there needs to be consensus among the RE community on what high-quality RE looks like’.

They said that ‘disappointingly, this report fails to produce such a consensus’.

“This report is not so much an attempt to improve RE as to fundamentally change its character.

“The proposed name change to include ‘worldviews’ means that the scope of the subject is now so wide and nondescript that it would potentially lose all academic value and integrity. As we have always maintained, the quality of religious education is not improved by teaching less religion.”