Religious education

Poor (or no) RE is a gaping hole in the curriculum

A data review of religious education paints a mixed picture, writes Sabah Ahmedi, yet it is crucial to human experience and a broad and balanced curriculum

A data review of religious education paints a mixed picture, writes Sabah Ahmedi, yet it is crucial to human experience and a broad and balanced curriculum

30 May 2022, 5:00

Up to 500 secondary schools in England are reporting no timetabled RE for 14-16 year olds. That’s the statistic that worried me most amid last week’s data review into the subject by the National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE).

And for some who do teach RE, more needs to be done. An Ofsted research review recently identified “insufficient curriculum time to teach an ambitious curriculum” and a “lack of scholarly approach” as key barriers to high-quality provision.

Since becoming an imam three years ago, I’ve used social media as a way to explore and explain my faith with a younger audience. One thing I’ve learned is that there’s still a great deal of curiosity among them about the beliefs of others, particularly with regards to what religion looks like in lived experience.

During Ramadan, I found myself answering questions on everything from the practicalities of fasting to the spiritual experience behind the practice. As much as I enjoy this aspect of my work, I feel it must also be the responsibility of schools to teach young people about the role that religion and belief still have to play in modern society.

Over the past 50 years, the cultural and religious landscape of Britain has changed dramatically. The nature of belief is increasingly diverse and pluralistic. Perspectives on God and the nature of reality may be made up of multiple religious and non-religious beliefs.

Consider, too, that 84 per cent of the world’s population identifies with an organised religion. This means that by no longer teaching a full RE curriculum, we do a great disservice to young people painting a picture of a world where religion is no longer relevant.

In order for young people to succeed in life, we need to prepare them to understand a multitude of different worldviews and backgrounds ̶ as well as their own and the influences that have shaped them.

Too many are cut off from a full and purposeful education

How can schools do this? Including sufficient RE on the timetable is a start, and teaching a diversity of religious and non-religious worldviews during that time is key. That’s what the Commission on Religious Education proposed in 2018, putting forward a fresh vision for the subject by recommending the subject be taught through the lens of worldviews ̶ that is, ways of understanding, experiencing and responding to the world around them.

Religious or not, everyone has a worldview. Throughout our lives, we question its meaning, the role of a higher power and the nature of reality and this shapes our responses to others. Young people need to explore their own, and be able to encounter others with similar and different worldviews in order to navigate the global work and social places they inhabit.

Teaching about the diversity of different religious and non-religious beliefs through the lens of a worldview promotes greater faith and interfaith understanding. It also provides young people with a wealth of vital knowledge to draw upon for their self-development, their understanding of the past and present and the way they want to shape the future.

The public appears supportive: in a recent survey, 71 per cent agreed that RE should reflect the diversity of beliefs in the UK today. And there is growing support in Westminster too; after a recent parliamentary roundtable on the future of the subject, Sir Peter Bottomley MP called for a national plan for the subject, arguing that not teaching RE in line with the worldviews approach would leave a “gaping hole in the school curriculum”.

I strongly believe he is right. We must invest more time and resources in religious education, and this must be led by what we know works in providing high-quality teaching and learning. A worldview approach is the best way to ensure young people acquire knowledge of the lived experience of religion and belief, allowing them to take their place on the global stage, increase inter-faith understanding and deepen their self-knowledge and personal and spiritual development.

As things stand, too many young people are being cut off from the benefits of a full and purposeful education. And that really is a gaping hole in our curriculum.

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