New RE Review aims to reverse subject’s decline

New framework for RE in England outlines best practice

The Religious Education Council for England and Wales (REC) publishes new guidelines for RE today. The revised teaching framework for RE in schools replaces subject guidance last given in 2004.

The framework has been developed as part of an 18 month long independently funded subject review led by the REC, in partnership with professional associations and a wide spectrum of major faith and belief communities. It has been backed by the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove.

An Ofsted report Religious Education: Realising the potential published on October 6th criticised the levels of RE provision in schools, placing responsibility for improvement with the government. The REC has taken the initiative in commissioning this review and now calls on the Department for Education to play its part by providing a plan to support the subject review.

Key recommendations of the new RE national curriculum framework are:

  1. RE syllabuses should now take account of the new framework.   It has been designed to work in parallel with the new national curriculum and emphasises high standards, coherence and essential knowledge.
  2. Schools should regard the framework as a national benchmark. Local authorities, academies and faith groups have the flexibility to adapt what is taught.  In line with this approach, the review calls for RE specialist teachers to use their greater freedom to devise a curriculum supported by this clear set of standards.
  3. Whilst no change to the status of religious education is proposed, as the structures governing RE were settled in 1944, the review calls for open discussion on how best to provide good quality RE locally and nationally in the 21st century.

With a new RE teaching framework, children and young people will develop:

  • strong, core knowledge of religions and worldviews through varied experiences, approaches and disciplines including investigative teaching and enquiry
  • written and spoken skills to interpret and make sense of religion and belief, as well as to reflect on and express their own and others' ideas with clarity
  • a strong subject understanding: with an increasing ability to respond to religions and worldviews in an informed, rational and insightful way.

John Keast, chair of the Religious Education Council of England and Wales comments:

The new framework is an important step in securing the future of RE in our schools. Some schools boast good and outstanding RE yet many cannot. In recent years RE has fallen into a vacuum. Falling back on the safety net of statutory provision is not enough to ensure consistent high standards, strong teaching, adequate examination provision and clarity on what the subject covers. Having a thoroughly reconsidered national Curriculum Framework is a means of changing both practice and attitudes to RE.

Teachers, school leaders and subject experts participating in the review were united in the view that the new teaching framework cannot, on its own, change a subject. 

The review sets out the need for direct and effective attention to be given to the shortage of properly trained RE teachers in the classroom.  Again, RE teacher training bursaries have been withdrawn and the number of places available to those who want to train as RE teachers has been cut.

John Keast adds:

All the elements of good RE provision, from the recruitment of specialist teachers, to their role in the classroom and the training and resources given to them, are underpinned by the structure of locally agreed syllabuses, academy syllabuses and faith school provision, protected by national, statutory arrangements. As the state-funded education landscape changes, it could well be time to look again at how best to provide and support RE, so that teachers are well-trained, pupils are well taught, and the subject remains fit for purpose in schools and society today.

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The Religious Education Council of England & Wales (REC: Established in 1973, the REC is a national organisation that represents a range of religions and beliefs. Members include the Church of England, the Catholic Church, the Free Churches, the Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Jain, Zoroastrian and Bahá’í faiths, and the British Humanist Association alongside professional associations including the National Association of RE Teachers (NATRE).

Published on 23rd October 2013 The National Curriculum Framework for RE sets out the purpose and aims of RE; the contribution of RE to the school curriculum; and the breadth of study of RE. Guidance is included for early years; the knowledge, understanding and skills for key stages 1-3; and an overview for key stage 4 and 16-19.