The RE Council’s National Content Standard 2023
The RE Council of England and Wales has launched its National Content Standard for Religious Education in England. For too many years, the level and quality of provision for RE around England has been reported as inconsistent at best. This means thousands of pupils in our schools are denied their entitlement, established in law, to high-quality religious education. Instead, they receive either no RE, especially in key stage 4, or a single lesson combining the content of a range of subject areas, usually doing a disservice to all of them and often taught by teachers who are ill-equipped to do so.
Whereas, the National Curriculum documents specify certain content to be taught and learnt, instead, the National Content Standard specifies principles for the selection of content.
One major barrier to improving this situation is the lack of an agreement about what is meant by ‘a high-quality religious education’. Unlike a subject included in the National Curriculum, RE has no national programme of study document to act as a benchmark. The Commission on RE (2018) presented a National Entitlement to RE as ‘a set of organising principles which form the basis for developing programmes of study’. The draft resource (November 2022) built on and adapted this work with the aim of producing a handbook for curriculum developers and syllabus writers.
The RE Council’s National Content Standard for Religious Education utilises sections of the draft resource, including the National Statement of Entitlement, to establish a benchmark for high-quality religious education. The style of the document mirrors that of a National Curriculum Programme of Study but with one important difference. Whereas the National Curriculum documents specify certain content to be taught and learnt, the National Content Standard instead includes principles for the selection of content. This reflects the current legal framework for RE in different types of schools, including academies, most schools with a religious character that have the right to develop their own syllabuses for RE, and most local-authority-maintained schools without a religious character who follow their local agreed syllabus.
The expectation is not that all schools will include certain content in developing their curriculum for RE, but rather that the curriculum they develop will be comparable in breadth, depth and ambition to the standards exemplified in the National Content Standard.
Since the publication of the draft resource in November 2022, the REC and its partners have been working to build a consensus about what constitutes a high-quality religious education or an education in religion and worldviews. Through this work, consultation and feedback on the draft resource continue to inform the production of the final handbook, due for publication in May 2024.
The RE Council is also currently collecting endorsements from school providers, academy trusts, RE Council member organisations and others who recognise the National Content Standard as a benchmark for high-quality RE and want to use it to raise the standard of RE. The hope is that with a visible consensus about what ‘high-quality’ looks like, providers will choose to join the RE Council in working to achieve its vision where:
“Every young person experiences an academically rigorous and personally inspiring education in religion and worldviews.”
Deborah Weston OBE – October 2023