NSS: Ofsted research shows RE is “a hopeless case”

Posted: Mon, 22nd Apr 2024

Ofsted says subject "continues to wilt", with some schools teaching "little discernible RE".

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Religious Education in England is "poorly constructed, poorly implemented, and poorly learned" in "too many" schools, Ofsted has said.

In newly published research, Ofsted said that "in many ways, the subject continues to wilt", with curricula often lacking "sufficient substance to prepare pupils to live in a complex world".

At secondary schools, Ofsted found most statutory non-examined Religious Education (RE) to be "limited and of a poor quality".

The content selected was rarely "collectively enough to ensure that pupils were well prepared to engage in a multi-religious and multi-secular society", and did not allow them to "systematically build disciplinary knowledge or personal knowledge", Ofsted said.

At four schools, pupils also told inspectors that the RE curriculum "did not reflect their experience of living in a complex world".

The National Secular Society said the report illustrated the "hopeless case" of RE, and called for its replacement with a nationally-determined civics and citizenship subject.

Surveys consistently show RE to be one of the least popular school subjects. Fifty-eight per cent British adults think RE is unimportant at secondary schools.

Unlike any other compulsory subject, RE is determined at a local level in England. In each local authority the agreed syllabus for RE is determined by committees representing the Church of England and other religion and belief groups, as well as the local authority and teacher's groups.

In its report, Ofsted described this "increasingly hyper-localised" system for determining curricula as "confusing for leaders and teachers to navigate".

A "significant duplication of time and energy" involved in establishing RE curricula, together with a "lack of coherent approach", negatively affects leaders and teachers, Ofsted said.

Ofsted also found the "overwhelming majority" of teachers had not received subject-based professional development in RE, which Ofsted described as a "significant concern" given the "misconceptions that pupils were left with". Over half the schools Ofsted visited used non-specialist teachers to teach RE.

Ofsted also found that in a "significant minority "of RE lessons "little discernible RE content" was taught. Ofsted attributed this to time being used to teach non-RE content, such as relationships, sex and health education.

As schools were not compelled to take part in the research, Ofsted said schools where RE is weaker who may have chosen not to take part may have had an impact on its findings.

NSS: "Hopeless case" of RE reflects need for urgent rethink

NSS campaigns officer Jack Rivington said: "The new research from Ofsted provides yet more evidence of the fundamental problems at the heart of RE.

"It is vital that schools properly equip children with the skills and knowledge to live in the diverse modern world. A subject which properly met this need would be a far better use of time than the unobjective, inconsistent, and unpopular RE the majority of pupils currently receive.

"It is particularly telling that some schools are opting to teach subjects they consider of greater priority than RE."

"We need a reformed subject focused on civics and citizenship to ensure education about religion and belief is broad, balanced and proportionate. The Government should listen to Ofsted, and the public, and undertake to rethink the hopeless case of RE as a priority matter.

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