‘All children need to acquire core knowledge and understanding of the beliefs and practices of the religions and worldviews which not only shape their history and culture but which guide their own development. The modern world needs young people who are sufficiently confident in their own beliefs and values that they can respect the religious and cultural differences of others, and contribute to a cohesive and compassionate society.’
(The Right Hon, Michael Gove, former Secretary of State for Education, 2013 RE Review and new 'non-statutory' National Curriculum Framework for RE)
The RE curriculum is locally determined by each Standing Advisory Council on RE (SACRE), which is responsible for producing its local Agreed Syllabus for RE. Maintained schools and many voluntary controlled schools who do not have academy status are required to follow their locally Agreed Syllabus and many academies and free schools choose to do so.
Academies and free schools are contractually required by the terms of their funding agreements to make provision for the teaching of RE. Different requirements apply to schools with a religious character (further details can be found in the legal requirements section). Members of NATRE and RE Today are working to support new types of school, including teaching schools, in offering a first-rate RE Curriculum.
The new National Curriculum is designed to be ‘knowledge based’ and to allow teachers more freedom. A new non-statutory Curriculum Framework for RE in England was developed by the RE Council for England and Wales (REC) in order to bring RE into line with these national developments.
The non-statutory Curriculum Framework for Religious Education in England is a document designed to guide Local Authority SACREs, academies, free schools, providers of RE in schools with a religious character and governing bodies. The section that follows explores the aims and purpose of RE in meeting the needs of 21s-century education, using the new non-statutory National Curriculum Framework for RE.
Religious Education contributes dynamically to children and young people’s education in schools by provoking challenging questions about meaning and purpose in life, beliefs about God, ultimate reality, issues of right and wrong and what it means to be human. In RE they learn about and from religions and worldviews in local, national and global contexts, to discover, explore and consider different answers to these questions. They learn to weigh up the value of wisdom from different sources, to develop and express their insights in response, and to agree or disagree respectfully.
Teaching therefore should equip pupils with systematic knowledge and understanding of a range of religions and worldviews, enabling them to develop their ideas, values and identities. It should develop in pupils an aptitude for dialogue so that they can participate positively in our society with its diverse religions and worldviews. Pupils should gain and deploy the skills needed to understand, interpret and evaluate texts, sources of wisdom and authority and other evidence.
Pupils learn to articulate clearly and coherently their personal beliefs, ideas, values and experiences while respecting the right of others to differ.
The curriculum for RE aims to ensure that all pupils:
A. Know about and understand a range of religions and worldviews, so that they can:
• describe, explain and analyse beliefs and practices, recognising the diversity which exists within and between communities and amongst individuals;
• appreciate and appraise the nature, significance and impact of different ways of life and ways of expressing meaning.
B. Express ideas and insights about the nature, significance and impact of religions and worldviews, so that they can:
• explain reasonably their ideas about how beliefs, practices and forms of expression influence individuals and communities;
• express with increasing discernment their personal reflections and critical responses to questions and teachings about identity, diversity, meaning and value, including ethical issues;
• appreciate and appraise varied dimensions of religion or a worldview.
C. Gain and deploy the skills needed to engage seriously with religions and worldviews, so that they can:
• find out about and investigate key concepts and questions of belonging, meaning, purpose and truth, responding creatively;
• enquire into what enables different individuals and communities to live together respectfully for the wellbeing of all;
• articulate beliefs, values and commitments clearly in order to explain why they may be important in their own and other people’s lives.
*The sources of wisdom found in religions and worldviews will include the key texts, the teachings of key leaders, and key thinkers from different traditions and communities. Examples include the Bible, the Torah and the Bhagavad Gita; the Buddha, Jesus Christ, the Prophet Muhammad, Guru Nanak and humanist philosophers. Other sources of wisdom might come from texts, thinkers, leaders and scientists in the contemporary world as well as from experience and informed personal reflection and conscience.
RE in the school curriculum
RE is a statutory subject of the school curriculum of maintained schools. Academies and free schools are contractually required through the terms of their funding to make provision for the teaching of RE to all pupils on the school roll. Alongside the subject’s contribution to pupils’ mental, cognitive and linguistic development, RE offers distinctive opportunities to promote pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. RE lessons should offer a structured and safe space during curriculum time for reflection, discussion, dialogue and debate. Lessons should also allow for timely and sensitive responses to be made to unforeseen events of a religious, moral or philosophical nature, whether local, national or global.
The breadth of RE
The law requires that local authority RE agreed syllabuses and RE syllabuses used in academies that are not designated with a religious character ‘must reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian, while taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain’. This means that from the ages of 5 to 19 pupils in schools* learn about diverse religions and worldviews, including Christianity and the other principal religions. Some schools with a religious character will prioritise learning about and from one religion, but all types of school need to recognise the diversity of the UK and the importance of learning about its religions and worldviews, including those with a significant local presence.
*Except those withdrawn by their parents (or by themselves if aged over 18)