Students, RE experts, and leaders of faith and belief organisations meet in London to celebrate the subject and discuss its future amid teacher recruitment challenge.
Dame Rachel de Souza, Children’s Commissioner for England, has spoken of the ‘safe space’ offered by good RE teaching in schools, remarking that it is “the one place in the curriculum” where young people can discuss “important and exciting philosophical, religious and moral conundrums in safe spaces”.
Attendees at an event marking the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Religious Education Council of England and Wales heard from students, teachers and faith and belief leaders who spoke of the academic skills and knowledge the subject provides young people in helping them to take their place in modern Britain.
Religious education continues to be a popular subject in schools. Over the last five years entries to Religious Studies GCSE have stood around an average of 250,000 with entries to the full course GCSE rising by 30% over the last decade.
Despite its popularity, many schools offer little or no RE provision. A recent data review by the National Association of Teachers of RE found that around 500 secondary schools in year 11 offer no RE provision. There is also a problem with specialism in schools, with a recent parliamentary question revealing that half of secondary RE teachers spend most of their timetable delivering another subject.
Dame Rachel de Souza said: “Children have told me that they want school to be the place where they can learn about life skills, relationships and how to set themselves up for the future. The RE curriculum is the one place that children can learn these important things.
It provides children with a chance to understand more about the world, other cultures and religions, and also about themselves. RE helps us understand the different faiths and communities which make up modern Britain and crucially, RE is a place where these young people can discuss important and exciting philosophical, religious and moral conundrums in safe spaces.”
REC Chair Sarah Lane Cawte, said, “The world has changed significantly in the fifty years since the REC was founded and RE has continually evolved to serve the needs of our society. We must continue to change, working towards the vision of the Commission on RE, with an approach that recognises the complexity of religious and non-religious worldviews in the twenty-first century.
“This change starts by those in government and schools recognising the value of subject in preparing young people for a rich, diverse, multicultural society and global workplace.”
In October, a Westminster Hall Debate saw MPs and Peers from across the House agree on the RE’s importance for life in modern Britain as well as express concern around a lack of government support for the subject. Last March, the Father of the House, Sir Peter Bottomley MP hosted a roundtable on the future of the subject.
He said: “We must support our RE teachers in delivering a modern, relevant RE curriculum. High quality religious education builds cohesion in our societies and helps prepare young people for the world beyond Britain too. We need a national plan for religious education to curb the present teacher recruitment crisis and ensure this high quality provision reaches every young person in every school.”
An RE teacher recruitment campaign, Beyond the Ordinary, is currently underway to attract the next generation of RE teachers. It has called for applicants from a variety of backgrounds, stressing the ability of the subject to help young people answer the big questions in life.