Potential of Religious Education still valued despite subject’s neglect

September 16, 2021

New opinion poll findings released today have found that Religious Education (RE) continues to be perceived as a valuable part of the school curriculum in our religiously diverse society. According to the survey – conducted by Savanta for the education charity Culham St Gabriel’s Trust – 64% of the UK adult population believe RE to be an important part of the school curriculum.

73% agreed that it was the role of RE to provide pupils with the opportunity to learn more about other people, beliefs, worldviews and cultures, and 71% agreed the subject should reflect the diversity of backgrounds and beliefs in the UK today. A further 65% agreed the subject has an impact on people’s ability to understand each other in wider society.

The positive findings follow long standing neglect of RE. Despite profound changes to England’s education system over recent decades, the legal structures and systems that support the subject have remained largely unchanged since 1944. This disregard has contributed to many faith schools continuing to give limited consideration towards other beliefs, especially prior to GCSE. Many non-faith schools meanwhile have cut back on their provision. A 2017 report from subject associations found 28% of secondary schools in England provided no dedicated curriculum time to RE, while a 2019 Liverpool Hope University study found only 30% of non-faith secondaries in England provided RE GCSE.

In recent years a broad consensus has emerged about how RE could change. A two-year investigation undertaken by the Commission on Religious Education and published in 2018 urged that all pupils in England be provided with a nationally prescribed entitlement to an education about religious and non-religious beliefs. A report in the same year from the Lancaster University based academic Professor Linda Woodhead and former Education Secretary Charles Clarke made a similar recommendation.

Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, the Reverend Stephen Terry, said ‘It is pleasing a large proportion of the public recognise that schools teaching about religious and non-religious beliefs can make a big contribution towards the growth of mutual understanding between people from different backgrounds. Given Britain’s growing religious diversity, this is only becoming more relevant and important.’

‘It is however disappointing that Religious Education in England continues to be neglected, with some non-faith secondaries not providing the subject, and many faith schools providing a cursory education about other beliefs. It is to be hoped that our new Education Secretary can help overcome the complacency of some of their predecessors and safeguard a future where all school students are entitled to an objective and pluralistic education about religious and non-religious beliefs.

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