Make schools teach new ‘religion and worldview’ subject, says commission

Religious education should be renamed “religion and worldviews” to make it more relevant, a new report has urged.

Under proposals set out in a report from the Commission on Religious Education, schools would be held to account by Ofsted for their legal requirement to offer the subject, and required to publish information about how they meet pupils’ “national entitlement” to study it.

By law, RE must be taught by all state-funded schools in England, with the syllabuses agreed locally. But school workforce data shows 39 per cent of primary academies without a religious character offer no RE, and 42 per cent of secondary academies without a religious character offer no RE. GCSE entries in the subject also faced one of the starkest drops this year of any subject, at 10 per cent fewer entrants than in 2017.

The commission warned RE is in danger of “withering on the vine”, and blames the decline on the fact that Ofsted doesn’t inspect individual subjects, the removal of the GCSE short course from performance tables and the exclusion of the subject in its entirety from the EBacc.

“Schools are breaking the law and no one is checking up on that,” Joyce Miller, one of the commissioners and a research fellow at Warwick university, told Schools Week.

Schools are breaking the law and no one is checking up on that

The commission says the current badge of “religious education” makes the subject sound as though it’s “making people be religious”, and fails to reflect the diversity of society’s views.

The re-named subject would reflect a focus on non-religious worldviews as well, such as humanism, secularism and atheism, which schools don’t currently have to teach. Schools would also have to teach about the histories and texts of worldviews, including how they interact, hold power and produce social norms and moral behaviours.

Ofsted’s increasing emphasis on a ‘broad and balanced curriculum‘ makes teaching R&W even more important, Miller added.

READ MORE: RE should be renamed Religion, Beliefs and Values

Under the proposals, the curriculum for local authority maintained schools would be changed and academies’ funding agreements would be amended to state they must teach R&W, said the report. The new subject should be implemented when the government next reviews GCSEs and A-levels – even though education secretary Damian Hinds said he won’t change the curriculum again in this parliament.

The report stops short of saying R&W should be made an EBacc subject.

It also does not state that parents should have their current legal right to withdraw their pupils from RE lessons scrapped, unlike a report by former education secretary Charles Clarke and sociologist Linda Woodhead.

That report called for RE to be rebadged “religion, belief and values”, or RBV for short, and warned that RE is at risk of seeming “less academic” than other subjects.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, which provided responses to the commission, said it was “disappointing” the commission did not call for a ban on parents removing children from RE lessons.

However, he said the DfE must review the “detrimental effect” the EBacc is having on RE and was warmly supportive of the report’s other recommendations.

The report was also welcomed by Andrew Copson, chief executive of Humanists UK, who said it represented a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to save the “academically serious teaching” of differing worldviews.

But a spokesperson for the Catholic Education Service said the current proposals would “fundamentally change the character” of RE.

“The proposed name change…means that the scope of the subject is now so wide and non-descript that it would potentially lose all academic value and integrity.”

A spokesperson for the DfE said the report by the commission highlights the “challenges faced in teaching religious education,” adding they would look at its recommendations.


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  1. The report of the Commission on Religious Education is another baby step towards long overdue reform. It has many sensible suggestions but is compromised by flawed thinking based on a lack of clear definitions.

    It wants the subject to be called “Religion and Worldviews” – but this omits moral values and ignores that worldviews already include religions: so why privilege religion with a special mention? “Beliefs and Values” would be a better title.

    It admits the legitimacy of studying non-religious worldviews but then seeks to relegate humanism to a marginal position, suggested for study as an alternative to Confucianism and mentioned less often than Sikhism, and usually mentioned in a list with three supposed alternatives that are not worldviews at all (atheism and agnosticism, which are merely answers to the question ‘do you believe in a god/gods?’) and secularism (which is the political principle of separation of church and state).

    Humanism is by far the most significant non-religious worldview in the UK. It is a fully articulated philosophy well able to stand comparison with any religion. British Social Attitudes tells us that 7 out of 10 young people aged 18-24 have no religion, with those at school probably even less religious. Yet the Commission, intent on shoring up religion, pays little more than lip service to the need to tell these young people about the worldview most likely to appeal to them.