Recent national research shows that parents think an education in religion and worldviews really matters. We need to share this message and change a commonly held view that parents do not support RE in schools. This latter view is something I hear regularly. Indeed, a recent YouGov Tracker suggested that the general population don’t value it. According to this opinion poll 58% saw no value in religious education, and only 10% thought it was very important. However, a survey we commissioned last year (Savanta Comres 2021) suggested that the public did value the subject. Indeed, this survey showed 64% of respondents saying it was an important part of the school curriculum. The exact opposite of the YouGov survey.
In an attempt to find out what parents really think about religion and worldview literacy Culham St Gabriel’s Trust, which is also member organisation of the RE Council of England and Wales, commissioned a second national representative survey (2000 UK adults with children aged under 18) through Savanta Comres in September 2022.
The findings were interesting, and perhaps a little surprising.
78% of parents discuss beliefs about the origins of life and the universe with their children
Firstly, parents love to talk about religious and philosophical issues with their children.
Whilst I love to talk about religion, spirituality, and philosophy with my own children, I was a little surprised that so many other parents did!
- Around 7 in 10 discuss beliefs concerning what happens when we die (72%)
- Around 8 in 10 discuss beliefs that affect people’s behaviour and decision making (77%)
- Around 7 in 10 discuss issues related to religious and non-religious worldviews that appear in the media (67%)
The big questions of life are clearly hot topics! Whether parents hold a religious or non-religious worldview they are discussing matters relating to values, attitudes, purpose and meaning.
Secondly, school emerged as the biggest source of information about different worldviews. Seven in ten parents (69%) reported that their child accessed information about religious and non-religious worldviews in the classroom. This was significantly higher than any other sources of information such as friends (27%), social media (24%), books (22%) or online (around 17%). This strengthens the argument that the subject in schools must be well taught, by well qualified teachers. Indeed, some parents raised concerns about the lack of specialists.
Thirdly, parents value the subject as part of the school curriculum, particularly welcoming a new religion and worldviews approach. 67% of parents who responded said that what their child learns in RE is important. Younger parents (aged 18-34) were particularly positive about the subject, with 74% saying they valued it. Only 13% said they didn’t value it, with about 20% neutral. So one might ask why these findings are so different to the You Gov tracker. One answer to this might be that a definition of Rem, based on the Ofsted Research Review (2021) was included in the survey:
A school subject in which pupils develop knowledge and understanding of religious and non-religious traditions, including their diversity and impact on individuals, communities, and society. In addition, pupils learn about the different ways in which people study these traditions, as well as building an awareness of and reflecting on their own personal worldview.
Perhaps when parents know more about the nature of the subject in schools, they can see its value? We can’t know for sure, but it is possible. Therefore, communicating with parents is a vital part of our work as member organisations of the RE Council.
In light of the #census2021 and evidence that we live in an increasingly multi religious, multi secular society, the importance of a broad based, critical and reflective education in religion and worldviews has never been more important. Parents agree. When presented with a new approach to the subject- religion and worldviews- parents were even more positive about its value.
- 73% of UK parents said it is important to learn about the similarities and differences between beliefs and lived experience of different worldview traditions
- 72% of UK parents said that RE lessons should include teaching that worldviews are complex and may comprise both religious and non-religious beliefs
- 70% of UK parents said RE lessons should teach about the social and historical context of different religious and non-religious worldviews
This is good news for the RE Council and its Religion and Worldview Project. For its first phase, on behalf of the RE Council, Stephen Pett of RE Today, developed a Draft Resource for syllabus writers and curriculum developers to support them in translating the REC’s vision of an excellent education for all in Religion and Worldviews. In phase 2, three school-based teams are now road testing the first draft of the Resource. During this academic year, they will develop their own syllabus/curriculum framework and units of work. Our survey shows that parents are overwhelmingly supportive of a new religion and worldviews approach.
So as member organisations please spread the word! Our subject matters to parents!
CEO, Culham St Gabriel’s Trust
For more information about the survey, promotional films about religion and worldviews and a template letter to write to your MP visit: https://www.cstg.org.uk/campaigns/promoting-an-education-in-rwv/