There is a great feeling for change within RE. Many want to look at systems put in place in 1944, including legal provision for RE, and want to do things differently. Some suggest that time is now. How do we get it right?
Here I write a possible (post-apocalyptic?) scenario for RE, if we get things wrong. It is why we MUST get things right. We must have consensus about our purpose. We must not rush. We must consider the vested interests of the RE world and work out how we are going to mange them. This could be RE in 2020...
There was great celebration when we changed the law and got rid of compulsory RE in 2017. We all thought thought there was an opportunity to get RE on a par with other humanities subjects. There was hope for inclusion in the EBacc (which quietly continues in the background) and therefore a better status in Progress 8.
As the National Curriculum is now all but obsolete, with free schools and academies not following it anyway, there was no point campaigning for RE to be part of such a framework. Only 10% of schools are now under LEA control.
Locally Agreed Syllabus' have been abolished as the government realised it was paying for every local area to "reinvent the wheel". This has lead to SACREs all but disappearing. Schools volunteers do exist in some areas; these are people willing to go in to help teachers. These are often connected to Local Groups supported by NATRE, or regional Hubs supported by CstG.
A collaboration of RE organisations tried to put together a 'Core Curriculum' for KS3 RE, however before they had finished their document, a company that includes a GCSE Awarding Organisation and a resource publishing business, produced "GCSE READY" a syllabus that effectively helps schools deliver a 5 year GCSE. It was produced by curriculum experts using the DfE Annexe produced in 2015 for the GCSE.
As a result many schools continue to offer just one hour a week to RE. Many RE teachers don't like the 5 year syllabus, but there are few other options. Due to a strong advertising campaign, many head teachers saw this as the 'best solution' for continued RE.
It is hard to work out which schools are actually teaching RE as many have created a new subject which has any one of about 30 different names which often includes the words 'moral' or 'ethics'. In these lessons, teachers are aiming to fulfil all kinds of legal and non-statutory requirements such as Citizenship, PHSE, British Values, SMSC and Community Cohesion.
RE has not featured in any OFSTED report since their significant reforms in 2017. This reflected the legal change in RE.
Collective Worship is now technically separate from the teaching of RE and does not have to be distinctly Christian, however many RE teacher continue with this responsibility for assemblies as it has already been historically so. Senior Leaders have not stepped in to take this away from RE teachers. The 'new subject' which RE teachers find themselves teaching continues to lend itself to these assemblies, perhaps more so now than ever before.
RE teachers are still in short supply and recruitment is at an all time low. This is because there is still a confused purpose and an 'RE teacher' job may involve teaching more of the subjects mentioned above than RE. This does not appeal to Theology or Religious Studies graduates. Strong RE departments work hard to convince former students to return and teach RE.
Budget cuts to schools have hit RE hard. Most schools will not pay for INSET nor resources. This has lead to most RE advisors becoming redundant, while companies and organisations that offer events and training have been forced to close or only offer free events or things teachers will pay for our of their own pocket. Publishers are not as interested in RE and so choice is far more limited now. Many resources tend to be teacher created and shared via places such as the Save RE GoogleDrive; quality varies hugely.
GCSE numbers are naturally down. Some people have said this doesn't matter as only students who really want to do it are picking it as an option. However, it is clear that there is great disparity among schools; good RE departments have high numbers, while others have no entries. RE has no consistency across schools, for some students it is non-existent, for others, poor or confusing.
Faith schools continue to deliver their own RE syllabuses. Under continued attack from organisations such as the BHA, faith schools lead an active campaign to refuse the law change. They believed any concession given would be seen as a victory for the anti-faith school campaign and would lead to further attack and forced concessions. Faith schools still have high GCSE entries, better department budgets and resources. Sadly there is greater divide than ever between faith schools and other schools when it comes to RE. However there are reports that faith schools are using elements of "GCSE READY" in KS3 to help prepare their students for KS4.
Due to continued confusion over purpose and aims, the perception of the subject has not improved for students or parents, or indeed senior leaders. Within RE organisations and among RE teachers, there continues to be great division. These disagreements remain irreconcilable. The 'something else' of RE remains undefined and discussions about 'spirituality' have not reached any conclusions. Views on pedagogy and the delivery of RE are the biggest issue. A form of confessional RE continues in some non-faith schools; personal agendas and views still pervade in some classrooms.
Non-religious world views and humanism now feature in many RE lessons. However, often they are not taught well as there is confusion about how they fit alongside the teaching of religion. Some resources do exist but even among non-religious people there is much disagreement.
The right to withdraw no longer exists. If a school chooses to teach a distinct RE at Key Stage 3, all students must follow that curriculum. Only in schools with a religious denomination is RE compulsory beyond Key Stage 3.
Due to "GCSE READY", assessment at KS3 is much better. They have produced a flexible assessment model that can be adapted to school systems. The knowledge and skills are directly linked to the GCSE.
Primary RE continues to suffer. Due to it no longer being compulsory, many schools now use the time in KS2 for further SATs preparation. Many schools do not have a teacher responsible for RE. As in secondary, any religion or RE is often packaged alongside Citizenship, PHSE, British Values , SMSC and Community Cohesion.
- Is this the world of RE we want?
- How can we ensure that the negative aspects of this scenario don't happen?
- What are our priorities?
- What do we need to change first?
- What is realistically achievable?
- If there isn't a climate for law change, how do we solve the issues?
- Do we need multiple solutions to these problems?
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Image: The Playground Scene from Terminator 2