Why has a Secretary of State who once ordered that a copy of the King James Bible be sent to every school allowed Religious Education to sink to such a parlous state in many schools across England? Why is RE effectively ignored in some Academies and Free Schools? The HMI Report on the teaching of RE, published this weekend*, should really have come as no surprise to Mr Gove because earlier this year the All Party Parliamentary Group on RE published a report expressing serious concern about teacher preparation in the subject and its effects on the way the subject was being taught.
Ever since the creation of the National Curriculum in the Education Reform Act, the position of RE has been anomalous, mandatory, but neither a core nor a specified subject, rather in a position of its own.
Religious Education has suffered most at primary level where many PGCE courses can devote only a few hours to preparing teachers to deliver the subject despite their need to be familiar with a range of faiths, and the position of those with no belief in a deity at all.
It is to be hoped that if Mr Gove does take a new interest in the subject he does not treat it as a branch of history; just require the learning of specific bible passages. For a start such an approach would lead to many parents withdrawing their offspring from RE lessons. Rather, in this modern age, the subject can help foster tolerance, and a world-view. Faith is a very personal matter, but that does not mean non-faith schools should ignore the importance position of religious beliefs in society, and the views of those who do not accept them. As we approach the festival season that for many schools runs from Halloween – a festival seemingly sponsored by the retail trade – to Christmas – another festival that for many people seems these days to have been annexed by retailers – it is important for young people to know the importance of faith to many in this country and across the world so that they make up their own mind as to what they believe. However, it doesn’t contribute to league tables, despite the RE community striving to have the GCSE included in the English Bacc. Many schools and local authorities have obviously paid little heed to the development of the subject or the maintenance of their SACRE. As Ofsted say in their Report ‘Recent changes in education policy are having a negative impact on the provision for RE in some schools and on the capacity of local authorities and SACREs to carry out their statutory responsibilities to monitor and support it.’
For intending primary school teachers, and those that train them, the issue is how to cope with any demand from on high that they pay more attention to RE as a subject in the curriculum. In reality, what needs to be addressed is the question of how we train our primary school teachers to provide them with the time and space to learn about the whole curriculum both during their training and the subsequent professional enrichment and development activities they undertake during their careers as teachers.