Faith in our schools?

7 Oct

“More than half of schools” [in England] were “found to be failing pupils on religious education”, according to Ofsted. The schools inspectorate said that schools and the government had failed to focus effectively on religious education.

In Religious education: realising the potential, it comments that:

“religious education makes an important contribution to pupils’ development, both personal and academic. It does so by promoting respect and empathy, which are increasingly important in an ever more globalised and multicultural 21st century. While inspectors identified examples of good practice they found that six out of ten schools examined in this report failed to realise the subject’s full potential. The report finds low standards; weak teaching; a confused sense of purpose of what religious education is about; training gaps; and weaknesses in the way religious education is examined.”

Other key findings included:

  • the recent introduction of the English Baccalaureate measure for pupils who achieve grade C or above in English, mathematics, science, a language and either history or geography, ignores RE and has further marginalised the subject (in July Education Secretary Michael Gove told religious leaders that RE had “suffered” because of government changes but that he had thought that, because schools have a statutory duty to provide RE lessons, the subject was protected);
  • RE “plays a key role in promoting social cohesion and the virtues of respect and empathy, which are important in our diverse society…” but “many pupils leave school with scant subject knowledge and understanding”;
  • “RE teaching often fails to challenge and extend pupils’ ability to explore fundamental questions about human life, religion and belief.”
  • Even at GCSE level teaching often “failed to secure the core aim of the examination specifications, that is to enable pupils to adopt an enquiring, critical and reflective approach to the study of religion.”

Ofsted recommends that:

  • “the government should consider whether the current arrangements for supporting the subject are proving effective, and that provision for religious education in schools should be monitored more closely;
  • “schools should make sure that the provision for religious education deepens pupils’ understanding of the nature, diversity and impact of religion and belief in the world today;
  • “councils and local Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education should work more closely with schools and academies to build networks and share good practice;
  • “GCSE examinations for religious education should be improved to ensure they focus more strongly on developing pupils’ understanding of religions and beliefs;
  • “improvements should be made to the supply and training of religious education teachers; and
  • “schools should make sure that the overall curriculum for religious education is challenging, and has greater coherence and continuity.”

The increasingly fragmented nature of education in England, since the introduction of academies and free schools and the reduction in local authorities’ role, has made the situation more confused.

The report found that:

 “SACREs for RE have not kept pace with wider changes: these include the expansion of the academies programme and reductions in local government spending.”

“The successful expansion of the academies programme means that a growing number of schools are moving outside local authority control and are therefore no longer required to follow the locally agreed syllabus. Some authorities now have very few, if any, secondary schools but they are still required to resource and produce a locally agreed syllabus for Key Stages 3, 4 and 5.”

“Academies must provide RE in accordance with their funding agreements. The model funding agreements broadly reflect the provisions that apply to local authorities and schools in the maintained sector. In the case of academies that do not have a religious designation, this means they must arrange for RE to be taught to all pupils in accordance with the general requirements for agreed syllabuses. In other words, they should also ‘reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian while taking account of the teachings and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain’. Academies are not, however, required to follow any specific locally agreed syllabus.”

According to the Department for Education (DfE):

“Generally, academies and Free Schools are required to provide a broad and balanced curriculum to include English, maths and science and to make provision for the teaching of religious education….

“Religious education is compulsory for all pupils registered in maintained schools up to the age of 18. Maintained schools must follow their locally agreed syllabus. Maintained schools must also provide a daily act of collective worship that should be broadly Christian, unless the school has been granted a determination to conduct collective worship of another faith.

“Academies do not have to teach the National Curriculum. However, they must teach a broad and balanced curriculum including English, mathematics, science and religious education. They do not have to follow the locally agreed syllabus for religious education but can devise their own. They must also provide a daily act of collective worship that should be broadly Christian, unless the school has been granted a determination to conduct collective worship of another faith.”

In a previous post, we commented on concerns that religious education is “disappearing from classrooms” and Voice member Tony Reynolds added his concerns:

“I attend the Cambridgeshire SACRE on behalf of Voice. It is noticeable that teaching unions are finding it increasingly difficult to secure members’ release from school to attend these meetings. Currently only ATL have a representative alongside ourselves.

“Also, SACRE feel strongly that apart from the issues raised in the blog, RE is back to being taught in wider projects in Primary settings & can become marginalised, certainly lacking context. RE is too often delivered by TAs & cover staff during the class teacher’s PPA time. Secondary schools no longer have to provide data & Ofsted’s focus has changed, so SACREs have minimal information to go on, compared to the past.”

In an article in the October 2009 edition (pdf) of the Voice members’ journal, Your Voice, Nardia Foster MA (Psychology of Religion), CPsychol (Chartered Psychologist) highlighted a Durham University report that revealed widespread ignorance of the Bible amongst children.

Voice has also raised its concerns about the “narrow and pointless” English Baccalaureate (EBacc), warning of the exclusion of subjects like RE, drama and music from this much-vaunted measure of supposedly “vital” “core subjects”:

Standing Advisory Councils for Religious Education (SACREs)

Most local authorities ask teacher unions to nominate someone for their local SACRE, and Voice’s Volunteers’ Committee would like to hear from members interested in taking part.

An article on the Voice Website points out:

“Many teachers have found that being on their local SACRE has offered valuable development opportunities and has opened up a network of support, especially for those who teach RE, whether at primary or secondary level.

“You will also have the chance to contribute to community cohesion and to explain to keen amateurs what actually goes on in schools and what education, rather than indoctrination or religious nurturing, is about. This is particularly significant when SACREs are writing guidance for schools and parents on specific issues.

“More importantly, you will be able to influence your local authority and contribute to the locally agreed syllabus.”

Your views

Do let us know your views and experiences…..

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One Response to “Faith in our schools?”

  1. Frances Stanfield 07. Oct, 2013 at 3:50 pm #

    As someone who has had responsibility for RE in infant schools I am sad that less time and commitment is given to children`s natural curiosity and attempts to find meaning. Also the stories of many faiths are very much enjoyed, and understood, by young minds which have not been pressured to believe or disbelieve.

    I have found the support training and resources provided by both the SACRE for Hampshire and the Diocese of Winchester most supportive and useful. I feel sorry that all their hard work hitherto seems to have been disappointingly paid attention.

    One doesn`t have to be a person of faith or signed up to a “religion” to impart knowledge and provide the right environment for the understanding and appreciation of humanity`s search for meaning.The daily experiences of children can be ones when those moments of awe and wonder can be captured and enhanced by teachers who know there is more to life than SATs and leaque tables and that you only get one go at life therefore it deserves to be lived!!

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