School Reports plus Religious Education – an irksome appendage – a second-class subject

Chris Street, President of Atheism UK notes the flurry of reports about schools in the past three months. Report subjects range from inequality, religion and belief, relationship and sex, racial discrimination, national plans for RE and cheating to get in.

The Accord Coalition  (October 2018, Quarterly Report No. 38) says:

  • “A report from the London University Institute of Education describing the growing socio-economic inequality in the English education system.

  • An update by former Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, and religion and society expert, Prof Linda Woodhead, to their 2016 report on the state of religion and belief in schools, which calls for urgent reforms.

  • Draft guidance on Relationship and Sex Education in all state-funded schools, issued by the Department for Education.

  • A Department for Education commissioned and published report on the difficulties and indirect racial discrimination that results for non-white children due to faith school admissions  (an issue Accord has previously warned about).

  • The report of the Commission on Religious Education (CoRE) on a national plan for RE.

  • A Sutton Trust report on families cheating school admission policies, which finds attending religious services to gain access to faith schools is the most ‘ethically dubious’ tactic being employed.”

Accord Coalition says reports on RE recommend reform of Religious Education:

“a remarkable convergence of views are to be found in the Clarke/Woodhead research and the CoRE report. Both advocate that the topic currently designated RE is renamed; the former proposes Religion Belief and Values as a new title, whilst the latter opts for Religion and Worldviews. Both advocate the teaching of non-religious belief systems at all schools. The best schools already teach in depth about non-religious beliefs, but many don’t. It is to be hoped that this is progressed since, if it is, a major step forward will be taken in schools boosting the growth of mutual understanding in society. Initial reactions have however indicated that there will be resistance from certain groups.”

Accord Coalition notes that:

“The authors find that longstanding inaction by Government to reform the ‘outdated’ legislative framework around RE and Collective Worship is putting RE at risk of a spiral of decline, with it seemingly having already happened to Collective Worship. The paper finds that current laws around compulsory daily worship in schools are ‘effectively unenforced and probably unenforceable’.”

Religious Education – an ‘irksome appendage’, a ‘second-class subject’

The Clarke/Woodhead research:

  1. says “that there are far too many schools that regard [the] good teaching of RE as an irksome appendage to the rest of school life, with many ignoring their legal obligation altogether.”
  2. “RE is increasingly been seen by many as [a] ‘second-class’ subject, with a consequent decline in standards”.
  3. “that very many schools are not now teaching RE in accordance with the current law. This is happening with impunity and is a symptom of the declining status of RE which risks descending into an increasingly vicious circle of decline.”
  4. cites a 2017 RE Commission “State of the Nation” report which says “25% of all schools surveyed said a weekly RE lesson to ensure that pupils understand different religions and beliefs is not available, whilst in academies and free schools this rose to 34% for 11 to 13-year-olds, and 44% for 14 to 16-year-olds. Even 4% of schools with a religious character do not offer a weekly lesson”
  5. Notes that in a recent poll, “only one in seven respondents think state-funded faith schools should be able to teach religious education without being obliged to cover all belief systems – including non-religious beliefs.”
  6. “There are schools of all denominations, both state-funded and independent, where the subject is not taught well and there are even some where a particular brand of belief is promoted at the expense of others. This can be exceptionally damaging. This applies both to some faith schools and to some independent schools.”

One Reply to “School Reports plus Religious Education – an irksome appendage – a second-class subject”

  1. An “irksome appendage” and “second rate subject” seems a very healthy attitude towards RE. “Religious Education” is a contradiction in terms. “Superstitious Education” would be more apt. It is beyond updating and better to teach more critical thinking and English comprehension instead.

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