800,000 secondary pupils lose out on religious literacy
New analysis of the Government’s School Workforce Census reveals that more than one in four (28%) state secondary schools are struggling to meet their legal obligation to teach pupils about major religions and systems of belief, depriving teenagers of vital knowledge about different faiths and beliefs in community, public and world affairs.
All state-funded schools, including academies and free schools, are legally required by the 1998 School Standards and Framework Act to provide Religious Education as part of a balanced curriculum.
The analysis of Government figures prompted the Religious Education Council and the National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE) to create a new State of the Nation report. The report includes data from the School Workforce Census and GCSE figures, as well as survey responses from 790 secondary schools. The research found that:
- 25% of all schools surveyed said a weekly RE lesson to ensure pupils understand different religions and beliefs is not available. In academies and free schools, where RE is determined as part of the funding agreement, this figure rose to 34% for 11 to 13 year olds, and 44% for 14 to 16 year olds. Four per cent of schools with a religious character do not offer a weekly lesson.
- RE also receives the lowest level of teaching time in academies and free schools. A majority (56%) dedicate less than 3% of their timetables (around 40 minutes) to RE; this low level of RE is only found in a third of schools where a locally agreed syllabus applies and 10% of schools with a religious character.
- Despite Religious Studies GCSE remaining a popular choice among students, it is still allocated less than the recommended level of teaching time of two hours per week in many schools; 43% of pupils are taught their GCSE full course in under one hour a week, nearly half (48%) receive one hour and a half or less of teaching.
- Students are more likely to have a teacher trained with the appropriate level of subject knowledge and expertise who can create a space to discuss faiths and beliefs in a school with a religious character (90%) than in schools where RE is determined with the locally agreed syllabus (73%), or academies and free schools where RE is determined as part of their funding agreement (66%).
NATRE’s Research Officer, Deborah Weston, said: “Whilst many schools, including academies and free schools, are continuing to deliver good RE, these statistics highlight serious problems that have implications for cohesion and inclusivity in our society, as well as presenting questions around the role of specialist RE teachers in schools. By developing knowledge and understanding about different religions and worldviews in the security of a classroom, young people have the opportunity to engage with complex, diverse and constantly evolving subject matter.
“Today, it is important to be religiously literate and to understand and question the accuracy of claims about different religions. RE provides for critical exploration of individual beliefs and values, whilst opening up the discussion about religion and belief in the communities we live in. These figures are alarming as they provide statistical evidence of a trend we have been hearing about from RE teachers, and come at a time where respect and tolerance for others’ beliefs is essential.”
Chief Executive of the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC) Rudolf Eliott Lockhart, added:
“More than ever, as our society becomes multicultural and religious extremism dominates the news agenda, we need young people to be religiously literate. We have been encouraged by an improved profile and better understanding for RE in schools from policy makers at both Ofsted and the Department for Education. They have committed to paying closer attention to RE, which makes these new statistics about schools’ struggling to provide required levels of RE all the more alarming.
“RE knowledge is vital in ensuring all school leavers go into the world of work and beyond, understanding the differences, identifying distortions and being part of the broader change needed to ensure communities are cohesive and well-integrated for future generations.”
In light of these findings, both the REC and NATRE remain committed to ensuring all pupils in all schools receive fair access to Religious Education. They are calling for the Government to make a clear public statement that it is not acceptable for a school to provide no RE as well as to review how provision is benchmarked.
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Notes to editors - State of the Nation report methodology
The School Workforce Census analysis was undertaken following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request on 4th February 2017 by the National Association of Teachers of RE. The FOI request gained data for each school that admits secondary aged pupils in England, for each of the five years 2010-2015 and for each year group: the number of hours of RE taught (including those where the information provided would be ‘no response’ or the response is zero); the number of hours taught to the year group; and the percentage of the RE hours taught. We found that 787 schools (28%) of all the 2,793 Census schools said they gave no time to RE in Year 11. We then multiplied that figure by the average state secondary school size (1,000) to reach a figure of 800,000 pupils.
State of the Nation polling was carried out through an online survey sent to all secondary schools in England. A total of 790 responses were recorded, and from these we can ascertain that 318 were from schools where a locally agreed syllabus applies, 93 were from schools with religious character (including academies where a Diocesan of ‘faith-based’ syllabus applies), and 139 were from academies without a religious character (but where the funding agreement states the requirement for RE provision). The remaining 240 schools could not be identified, but their input has remained part of the valid data set.
As such, we found that schools with a locally agreed syllabus were over-represented (from 25.6% nationally to 40% within this data set), schools with religious character were underrepresented (from 39.7% nationally to 11.7% within this data set), but academies without a religious character were very proportionally represented (17.5% nationally and 17.7% within this data set). However, if it were possible to identify the remaining 240 schools within the data set, it is possible that the representation of different types of schools would level out.
National Association of Teachers of RE
NATRE is the subject teacher association for RE professionals in primary and secondary schools and higher education, providing a representative voice at national level and publications and courses to promote professional development. NATRE’s Executive consists of a majority of serving teachers from primary and secondary schools who are elected for a three-year term of service.
Religious Education Council of England and Wales
Established in 1973, the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC) brings together over 60 national organisations. These comprise academic and professional associations specialising in religions and religious education, as well as individual religions and belief organisations inclusive of the range of faith communities found nationally, including Humanists UK.
 Analysis of the Government’s School Workforce Census focused on the number of hours of RE taught; the number of hours taught to the year group; and the percentage of RE hours taught. We found that 787 schools (28%) of all the 2,793 Census schools said they gave no time to RE in Year 11.