A recent OFSTED report – Religious Education: Realising the Potential – highlights the declining* provision and standards of R.E. in schools.
R.E, or Philosophy and Ethics as it is sometimes called, is just about the only subject where students are given the opportunity to learn about and discuss the beliefs held by students from different cultural backgrounds. In fact, gien the extent of cultural segregation in the U.K, these lessons may be the only opportunity children have to do this. There are also other benefits of PhE – such as encouraging students to think critically about ‘deep’ questions such as the nature of the self, death and dying, and the meaning of life in general. These lessons potentially provide a space in which students can develop both critical reasoning skills and pause for ‘deep reflective meditation’ (O.K. I know the later sounds unlikely – but trust me, it does occur in some schools!.
While recognising that the past 10 years have seen some improvements in RE in schools, evidence from the majority of schools visited for this survey shows that the subject’s potential is still not being realised fully, and notes the following, based on a sample of 90 schools.
- Weaknesses in provision for RE meant that too many pupils were leaving school with low levels of subject knowledge and understanding.
- Achievement and teaching in RE in the 90 primary schools visited were less than good in six in 10 schools.
- Most of the GCSE teaching seen failed to secure the core aim of the examination specifications: that is, to enable pupils ‘to adopt an enquiring, critical and reflective approach to the study of religion’.
- The provision made for GCSE in the majority of the secondary schools surveyed failed to provide enough curriculum time for pupils to extend and deepen their learning sufficiently.
- The teaching of RE in primary schools was not good enough because of weaknesses in teachers’ understanding of the subject, a lack of emphasis on subject knowledge, poor and fragmented curriculum planning, very weak assessment, ineffective monitoring and teachers’ limited access to effective training. The way in which RE was provided in many of the primary schools visited had the effect of isolating the subject from the rest of the curriculum.
Why the decline in Religious Education?
In a recent Radio 4 programme which discussed the report, the folllowing reasons were given for the decline of Religious Education….
- Changes in the way school performance is measured means that R.E. has been marginalised (given fewer resources, been ‘understaffed’ and actually had the amount of hours spent on it cut down) – This is because i) R.E. does not make up part of the new Ebacc and ii) short courses, which is how R.E. used to be taught in many schools, no longer count towards league table position.
- Academisation – 50% of secondary schools are now academies, which are outside of local authority control, which is the body responsible for ensuring R.E. provision. These new academies have more freedom to make the changes in no.1 above.
All in all this is another depressing example of the negative consequences of Marketisation on education – In a bid to get ahead in the League Tables, schools narrow their curriculms, cutting out humanistic subejcts that aim to develop rounded human beings.
It’s also a good example of how instutions both act in an ‘individualised’ way and encourage individualisation – each school is isolated in the league tables and strives to get ahead of every other school. In order to so this it cuts out those subjects such as R.E. which may encourage genuine values of citizenship and responsibility, leaving schools which focus more and more around fostering individualised competitive students.
*When I say decline, I mean decline relative to other subjects!