Following on my overview blog, here, this is focused on the 11 recommendations with my thoughts on each. It's vital that you read at least the executive summary, found here.
- Recommendation 1: Has this ‘name change’ caused unnecessary and distracting debate? It almost seems to be a feature of any report into RE - put a name change at number 1 of the recommendations to grab the newspaper headlines! Some feel that this change opens the door for a purely sociological teaching of ‘religion’ (yet the NE states a variety of approaches), others are wary of a secular humanist agenda (while the NE could potentially be covered with very little NRWV), while some question a seeming parity of religious and non-religious views in curriculum content. There are always the "somes", it is impossible to say if any of these concerns are valid before we actually see any curriculum models. Maybe it is important to show the law on NRWV is being covered? Or has it simply been a device that has opened up much needed discussion on the curriculum content? What hasn’t been helpful for teachers is the many headlines suggesting atheism, agnosticism and secularism will be taught for the first time in schools. It does nothing for the public perception of the subject
whooften think it is still RI anyway!
- Recommendation 2: This will be problematic for some schools with a religious character. If this is the battle that some want to insist on, it will delay helping those schools
whoneed urgent RE help the most. It is likely that many curricula would be compliant, but to force it upon Catholic schools would be unwise. If they freely chose to use, that is a totally different matter. As I stated in Part 1 (here), it is not the practicalities of this, it is the principle and precedent.
- Recommendation 3: A complex one... the tensions between ensuring something is good and robust (needing ‘gatekeepers’?) and allowing the very best of practice and existing excellent RE to form part of this. “
Whoseknowledge?” is always contested - does this do enough to ensure we get it right? The key question is always going to be - whoare the 9? How many will be teachers
- Recommendation 4: I do find it hard to justify hard work being replicated unnecessarily around the country. London particularly exacerbates the problem. How different is good RE in Norwich compared to Liverpool or to Brighton? How different is good RE in Newham compared to Hackney or Tower Hamlets?
- Recommendation 5: Worth including - I’d like to hope that would not be an issue. I also hope the next exam reform is a good way off!
- Recommendation 6: More training, bursaries and funding is always welcome. It is great to see the current support for this already including SKE funding from DfE. Subject knowledge can be real issue in RE with willing and keen non specialists teaching - and we know it is so important for effective teaching.
- Recommendation 7: Again, more money is good... however it does return to the question as to
whothe national body are, and what are their interests. I am reminded of CPD providers being involved in government funded organisations whowould be accrediting CPD... (see here)
- Recommendation 8: This does recognise the good will, time and dedication of those working locally for RE. I do feel now may be the time to review their roles. Some RE teachers do not have access to local faith representatives - let’s train them up and get them working with schools, teachers and students!
- Recommendation 9: Section 48 again is problematic - for example an inspector of a Catholic school, judging RE provision, perhaps should not be judging the RE in accordance with the governments criteria? There is a quite a shift in purpose in this scenario - some could claim it is small, technical, trivial almost and 'no big deal' - but inspectors employed by the Bishop, are then judging based on state criteria rather than just the Bishops criteria. The relationship between faith school providers, particularly the CoE and RC and the state has been long and worked well. It is important to consider the implications of pushing for this change, especially knowing it would be strongly resisted (and be potentially damaging to the
whole process). However a greater focus from Ofsted to ensure good RE would be helpful. There is no point Nick Gibb making comments about its compulsory nature in the Houses of Parliament without that being monitored through inspection.
- Recommendation 10: RE can be counted in the Progress 8 despite not being an EBacc subject (I think for 97% of our students it was in the third bucket), and as much as I want the profile of RE raised, obviously consideration needs to be given to the impact of change. Imagine if schools had to legally study RE, which meant some students didn’t do History or Geography - would that be an acceptable compromise? Many schools did use the Short Course to facilitate their legal duty for RE, and now can’t (a bigger issue than EBacc?). Potentially less students are now doing RE - but those
whoare, are doing better RE? Do we build our subjects reputation on being a desirable option rather than compulsory? As always, there are strong arguments for both.
- Recommendation 11: The right of withdrawal is something that needs review, and clarification. It is important to respect parental rights, and "the state knows best" remains a dangerous rhetoric. Yet it seems sensible to work towards an RE is sufficiently academic to eradicate the need for withdrawal - a subject where students do not want to be withdrawn, and nor do their parents want to ask for withdrawal! I think it is likely to stay - to avoid complex legal cases - but the ideal is surely less withdrawal in the short to mid term future.
Overall: For me, this is definitely the best of the reports that have been published on RE, as you would expect. I think the primary aim must be ensure at least adequate - if not good - RE, according to the current law, in all schools. I would like to see an 'Entitlement Lite' - a 3 to 5 short bullet point summary of the most important aims that could easily be placed in front of headteachers where needed.
I do fear that if members of the RE community decide they are going to focus on ensuring schools that currently control their own RE curriculum and are inspected via Section 48 are legally bound by this entitlement, it will be problematic and distracting to the primary aim. As I've stated before, the best case scenario is that the religious groups that run schools freely agree to conform and ensure their curricula are compliant, as many will be, rather than have it forced upon them. To do this could drive further divide in the RE community rather than unite it as this report has the potential to do. The period of further reflection indicate by Damian Hinds is my preference, as we begin to understand what this will look like in reality. As always, I am a champion for RE in all schools, but I cannot
wholeheartedly endorse all the the Commission proposes, because I do not believe that the state should be in control of the RE in Catholic schools. We have given much to the education system of this country, and worked well with the government of the UK for long enough to retain this right.
A huge thanks must go to the Commissioners for their hard work on this report.