Wed 19th Aug 2015

Goodbye from the departing Chair

On Monday, 17 August, I had the honour of speaking at the funeral of John Hull.  It was a deeply moving, celebratory occasion when many people from the world of religious education gathered to pay their respects to a man whose influence has been inestimable.  I said then that the name of John Hull is synonymous with RE and I gave some brief examples of his work.

One of the most important for me was John’s work on the 1988 Education Reform Act and subsequent government circulars.  He took apart the rhetoric of politicians and helped us to articulate our own philosophy of our subject so that we could stick to our professional, educational principles.  A little subversion was also sometimes necessary along the way!

And so it is interesting that, again, at the time of John’s death, the subject of the Law in relation to RE is again on the agenda. This summer’s highly significant publication from Charles Clarke and Linda Woodhead has propelled the question into the public arena and soon there will be another relevant major report when the work of the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life is published in the Autumn.

If I were a gambling woman, which I’m not, I’d be prepared to wager that within the tenure of the next Chair of the REC, we will see significant change in the Law governing RE in England. The debate is already underway in Wales, following the announcement of Huw Lewis that RE should be renamed to include philosophy and ethics.  It is up to us - that is, those of us who are actively involved in supporting and enabling high quality RE in our schools and colleges – to help shape these debates and to try to ensure that any future laws say what we want.

This is my last blog as the Chair of the REC and I am conscious, as I hand over to Prof Trevor Cooling, that we are entering ‘interesting times’. Perhaps we always are.  I have every confidence that Trevor and the new Board will take this, and other current issues, forward with courage and vision, in the best interests of the subject we all value so highly.

I have felt deeply privileged to chair the REC and it has been an extremely interesting and challenging year.  Three things stand out for me, in particular. 

The first is the much higher public and media profile that RE now enjoys, not least through the joint presence of the REC and RE Today at all three major political party conferences. We have continued to develop working relationships with government, including through the new criteria for examination courses. We have had some excellent (and some appalling!) coverage in the media – work remains to be done! 

The second is the evidence gathered to demonstrate the amount of voluntary support that the REC receives through its Board and its committee structure. More than 50 people are working for the REC and all of that energy and goodwill is one of the reasons that the REC will continue to be an effective organisation.

But the most important change, for me, this year has been the appointment of the Chief Executive Officer who has built on Sarah Smalley’s excellent work and who is revolutionising the way in which we operate and helping us to become even more efficient and sustainable with an even more ambitious vision of what we can achieve in the future. I will follow the REC’s fortunes with great interest from the side-lines (while I do my knitting!)

There are many people I would like to thank: Sarah Smalley, Rudi Eliott Lockhart, Sophie Agrotis, Leanne Sneddon and Naomi Dalton for their dedicated work; the Officers and the Board for their support and their strong commitment to the REC; our Member Organisations for being part of us; and our generous funders and patrons, without whom none of our work would be possible.

I will miss the REC enormously and wish Trevor, Rudi, Naomi and the new Board every success in supporting religious education at national level in the future.

Joyce Miller