As the current Religious Education Adviser for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, I receive e-mails and phone calls daily asking for help from primary teachers about teaching RE in schools.

The world is changing.

The impact of religions and beliefs on people, current affairs, morals, values, behaviours and so on, is evident through the media on a daily basis.

It is beginning to have an effect upon education provision as the DfE seek to respond with guidance, a changed curriculum provision, and new Ofsted frameworks annually.

All of which are creating challenges for our Religious Education teachers in the primary classroom.

There is not enough training provided for the complexity of the subject in PGCE, SCITT or Teach First Courses for Initial Teacher Training.

At best there is a half day devoted to prepare teachers in the primary schools, though many primary teachers have told me they had nothing on their training course.

Yet alongside the National Curriculum, Religious Education is statutory for all pupils from 5 years to 18 years.

In the primary phase, teachers are expected to teach about Christianity and the other major religions as represented in modern Britain.

In addition, they have to teach about other belief systems such as humanism or atheism, and ensure that young people learn about, and from, religions to help prepare them for life as a successful and confident citizen in modern Britain.

Secondly the pace of change in education over the last two years has been relentless, with little time for teachers to consolidate anything before another initiative or requirement is laid in front of them.

The pressures on the timetable to fit all that is required by both the National Curriculum and the School curriculum, often means that Religious Education is marginalised or not given its due regard on the timetable.

Time to plan and prepare are hampered by other more pressing needs. For example, the need to raise standards in literacy and numeracy above all else.

In October 2013 Ofsted produced a Long report about the state of RE in our schools called, “Religious Education: Realising the potential”*.

The report said that RE was ‘poor or inadequate’ in one in ten primary schools.

This is a damning report.

They recommended that schools adopt best practice seen across the country through developing enquiry based learning in RE.

The local Standing Advisory Council for RE in Cambridgeshire (SACRE) embraced this message, and the current legal Agreed Syllabus for Religious Education requires teachers to use the pedagogical approach of enquiry based learning in the subject.

However, this has resulted in fears being expressed by teachers that they do not know the answers to the young people’s questions.

They do not have the relevant in depth knowledge to teach the subject adequately. They have little or no access to CPD.

They are worried that they could offend someone of faith by saying something inaccurate.

They fear reactions from parents.

Some juggle in their own minds with their views on issues and find it difficult to be objective in this subject.

They have to manage the withdrawal clause from RE wisely and carefully – ensuring that the parents’ right to withdraw their child from RE is allowed. While at the same time taking into consideration the duties of the Equality Act 2010, which states that teachers should foster good relations and eliminate prejudices between people with the protected characteristics.

How can one do this if pupils are withdrawn from classes that teach about knowledge and understanding regarding religions and world views?

How does one manage the right to withdraw in a school that teaches a creative curriculum or a cross curricular model?

It becomes very difficult and complicated.

Yet Ofsted criticised primary RE for divorcing it from the rest of the curriculum making it appear a fairly irrelevant subject

Like any subject it’s important for pupils to be able to progress and achieve, and this is equally applicable to RE.  

Unfortunately there is little teacher confidence in assessment in RE, or understanding of what progression looks like in RE.

A diet of facts is what has been given to many children and not much else is done with it.

As Dilwyn Hunt recommends – our pupils deserve deeper knowledge and understanding of religions to make sense of the world, and to be encouraged to develop their own thinking about religions and important questions of the meaning and purpose of life.

This subject is relevant for everyone and is needed if we are to really make a difference to our young people’s lives – facing the world outside the classroom, harnessed with the ability to challenge the ignorance and prejudices that exist, and build a tolerant and respectful Britain.

* Ref no 130068

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