Charities react to funding gap for trainee RE teachers: tales of hardship prompt trusts to respond to ‘rank discrimination’ 

A new fund to support trainee Religious Education teachers wanting to work in secondary schools is being set up by a group of four independent charitable trusts. The fund has been established to dampen the impact of a Government decision to cut training bursaries for RE PGCE students. Bursaries had been worth up to £9,000 a year yet dropped to zero for the academic year 2013/14.

An initial £220,000 is being provided by the trusts for non-salaried secondary RE trainees starting their studies in September 2014. This Common Fund will help bridge the gap for students for one year after the Government’s decision to extend the bursary freeze into 2014-15.

The National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE), the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC), and the Bishop of Oxford have all presented evidence to support the case for reinstating the bursaries to Education and Childcare Minister, Elizabeth Truss MP. However, in a letter on February 7th, the Minister confirmed to Chair of the REC John Keast that no funding would be available for the coming academic year.

Dr Mark Chater, Director of Culham St Gabriel’s Trust, one of the four charitable trusts behind the Common Fund, said, “We remain unconvinced by the Government’s arguments for withholding RE bursaries and we interpret the Department for Education’s refusal to provide them as rank discrimination against RE.”

He added, “We are offering help because the Government refuses to do so. But we cannot help all the students affected. Ultimately responsibility for ensuring the supply of trained specialist teachers rests with the DfE, not the charitable sector.”

The cut in bursaries for trainee RE teachers comes despite a 20 per cent shortfall in the target number of RE recruits in 2013/14.* At 46.3 per cent, RE also has the lowest number of teachers with a relevant post A-Level qualification compared with any other subject.**

John Keast, Chair of the REC, added, “It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the refusal to give bursaries to RE trainees whilst providing them for nearly every other subject is pure discrimination by this Government against RE.
“Recruitment of RE trainees did not meet targets last year, and the number of non-specialists teaching RE is already higher than other subjects. It is the Government’s role to ensure a sufficient supply of trained and qualified teachers, but it is clear that it is failing to do so in RE. There is no rationale for this refusal.”

Ed Pawson, Chair of NATRE, says, “Michael Gove’s admission that RE has ‘suffered’ as a result of Government policy rings hollow given ministerial refusal to grant bursaries for trainee RE teachers. There is a long-standing shortage of qualified RE teachers in our schools. We must reintroduce bursaries for trainee RE teachers and bring more talented graduates into our classrooms.”

Since the cut in bursaries, evidence of hardship among RE PGCE students has been emerging through grant applications to the trusts.

Barbara Lane, Trustee of Culham St Gabriel’s, said, “This should not be about charity. This should be about justice. We are hearing of trainee RE teachers who cannot afford to travel to their placement, and cannot afford to eat properly.”

Stephanie Rothwell, 21, is doing a PGCE in RE at Liverpool Hope University. She said: “With money worries, studying becomes a practical juggling act, rather than an academic one. I can’t afford to buy any books on teaching practice or child development.”

25 year-old Carl Fisher is studying at St Mary’s University. He said: “If it wasn’t for very supportive friends and family, it would be impossible. I have to lean on their hospitality. I am very dependent on them.”

RE trainees’ experience also suggests that they are at a disadvantage compared to other PGCE students:

Gayle Impey from Liverpool Hope University says: “Turning down an invitation to an evening out with other staff or a special extra-curricular trip because you can’t afford it is risky when there are so many other teacher trainees out there with bursaries who can.”

Carl Fisher adds: “You don’t feel equal, you feel let down by the system.”

More on this story can be found in The Telegraph

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Notes to Editors:
*Provisional data from the National College for Teaching & Leadership ITT census November 2013.

**School Workforce Census for 2012 (2011)

  1. The Common Fund is being provided by four members of the Association of Church College Trusts (ACCT): Culham St Gabriels, Keswick Hall Trust, St Luke’s Foundation, and the Jerusalem Trust. The trusts will consider all applications for grants on the basis of individual needs. Applications can be made via the Keswick Hall website: 
  2. The Association of Church College Trusts was formed in 1979, as a loosely-knit organisation of autonomous trusts. These trusts were the legacy of twelve Anglican colleges of education which had been closed in cutbacks. In their different ways the trusts still support and promote the work in education originally done by the colleges.
  3. Established in 1973, the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC) brings together over 60 national organisations. These comprise academic and professional associations specialising in religions and religious education, as well as individual religion and belief organisations inclusive of the range of faith communities found nationally.
  4. The National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE) is the subject teacher association for RE professionals in primary and secondary schools and higher education, providing a representative voice at national level and publications and courses to promote professional development. NATRE’s Executive consists of a majority of serving teachers from primary and secondary schools who are elected for a three-year term of service.