In February last year, as the RE world continued to be under attack from Government, an All Party Parliamentary Group was set up. It involved:
- The Church of England,
- The Catholic Church, The Buddhist, Jewish, Sikh and Muslim faiths,
- The British Humanist Association
- Professional RE teaching associations
Its aim? Simple.
To safeguard the provision of RE in schools and explore how the subject can continue to deliver a valuable dimension to the education of all children and young people.
Since then, more people have joined the RE APPG and RE has had some wins and some loses. But the APPG isn’t done. It was set up in response to the growing number of non-specialists teaching RE. The DfE discovered that, in 2011, 55% of RE teachers had no post-A Level qualification in RE. To put this in context, for History it was only 27%. Why does this happen? Well, budgets are stretched and, sadly, RE is often seen as the poor relation. I remember one headteacher saying to me, “Anyone can teach RE. It’s just common sense.” Really?! This just goes to show that it still has stigma attached to it and just isn’t taken seriously in a lot of schools by a lot of teachers and SMT. Specialist RE teachers aren’t always deemed to be worth the money. RE teachers fight this prejudice on a daily basis, not only with students and parents, but with their colleagues as well.
There is some excellent and outstanding RE teaching going on but when non-specialists are used in placed of specialists the impact is huge. Not only does it affect results, but it affects the passion with which a subject like RE is taught with. When RE is taught well, it captures the imagination of questioning, thoughtful young people. Furthermore, if students receive good RE in Primary schools, the benefit in Secondary School is massive. They are more open to discussing different religious and philosophical beliefs, they are more articulate and show a greater level of understanding. And this last point is one of the reasons why RE was introduced in the first place. By reducing its importance has MP’s worried.
I think that it is even more important today that our children learn about the range of different faiths, cultures and beliefs to give them the chance to gain a level of knowledge across the piste so they don’t just have to listen to what’s on the internet or what may be the fundamentally bigoted attitudes of their parents or peers towards other religions. It is becoming more and more important because of the globalised world.
How is RE being undermined? PGCE places have dropped by more than 50% since 2010 and funding for RE PGCE students has been abolished. With the exclusion of RE as a Humanities subject from the EBacc, not only does reduce space for RE on the timetable, but it sends out a very negative message to SMT, parents and students, as well as RE teachers, lots of whom are working tirelessly to make RE accessible and relevant to all.
Only time will tell, but since last February, RE seems to be on stronger ground. It is a vital subject for today’s young people. We live in an increasingly instant and open world and we need to understand each other more and more.
The final report, written by Barbara Wintersgill, will be published on March 12th.