From RE to religion and worldviews

Written by: Dr John Hall | Published:
Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster & Chair, Commission on Religious Education

Is it time to refresh religious education? Wide-ranging reforms to the subject have been proposed by the Commission on Religious Education. What next? Dr John Hall sets out the proposals

Religious education has been a core part of the British education system since 1870.

The 1944 Education Act cemented its place on the curriculum, the post-war government making it available to all pupils regardless of their denomination. Since the subsequent introduction of other world religions and beliefs beyond Christianity in the 1960s and 1970s, RE in England has continued to evolve. In fact, many people over a certain age would barely recognise the subject from their school days.

But changes to our society over the past few decades and recent reforms of our school and exam system mean it is time for a major review of RE.
RE remains more relevant than ever and navigating the complex world of religion and belief is one of the most important challenges young people face in the modern world.

Every day they are exposed to the main traditions of faith and belief as well as a wide variety of worldviews through the media, online, and in daily social interactions. Often surrounded by controversy and misinformation, young people have to understand complex issues and make their own decisions on these vital matters.

RE has always addressed this academically challenging task and has been the school subject that has most equipped young people for this task. Taught well, RE can prepare young people for a globalised world of growing diversity of beliefs and practices. But it has continually to evolve if it is to respond creatively to the changing context of society, the world around us, and the shifting educational landscape.

The Commission on Religious Education (CRE) has spent the last two years listening to evidence from more than 700 concerned parties, including pupils, teachers, lecturers, advisors, parents and faith and belief communities.

It received more than 3,000 submissions, including encouraging reports of the excellent work happening day-by-day in many classrooms.

It found that alongside the growing diversity of religions and beliefs that pupils today encounter, the variable quality of RE experienced by pupils across the country has led to a postcode lottery.

Furthermore, it became clear that the legal arrangements around RE are no longer working. More schools are becoming academies and over the last decade, wider changes to the education system, such as the introduction of the EBacc performance measure, means schools are in effect focusing on a narrower set of subjects. This has led to a quarter of schools in England failing to fulfil their legal duty to provide RE.

After listening carefully to the evidence, the Commission has concluded that RE needs rejuvenating.

It is proposing that a new National Plan for RE should be enacted to ensure that learning in this area remains academically rigorous and a knowledge-rich preparation for life in a world of great religion and belief diversity. There are three components to this plan:

A new vision for RE

The subject should explore the important role that religious and non-religious worldviews play in all human life. This is an essential area of study if pupils are to be well prepared for life in a world where controversy over such matters is pervasive and where many people lack the knowledge to make their own informed decisions. It is a subject for all pupils, whatever their own family background and personal beliefs and practices. To reflect this new emphasis, the Commission proposes that the subject should be called “religion and worldviews”.

High-quality teaching

All pupils should have access to high-quality teaching, whatever school they attend. The Commission proposes that a statutory National Entitlement should apply to all schools and that this should be subject to inspection, with schools required to publish details of how they provide this entitlement. The entitlement encapsulates a common vision within which schools will be able to develop their own approach appropriate to their character. Furthermore, national programmes of study should be developed to support schools in their work.

Essential support

There should be a significant investment in ensuring two essential supports for this new way forward. First, highly qualified and knowledgeable teachers will be required to achieve this new vision. A sustained programme of investment in teacher education and development is essential to achieve this. Second, local communities have played a significant role in supporting RE in the past. The Commission proposes that the structures that made this possible should be re-envisioned to enable this important contribution to continue.

Conclusion

Secretaries of state for education have repeated their on-going support for RE, and the government frequently emphasises its statutory role on the curriculum, often in response to schools and academies failing to meet their legal duties. The study of religion and worldviews has an important contribution to make to future generations’ understanding and enjoyment of life. The time is ripe for change.

  • Dr John Hall is Dean of Westminster & Chair of the Commission on Religious Education.

Further information

  • To find out more about the CRE’s work and the report’s recommendations, visit www.commissiononre.org.uk
  • Commission proposes new subject of religion and worldviews to replace outdated RE, SecEd, September 2018: http://bit.ly/2Ic54gl


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