Religious education

Not exactly encouraging, given the extent and closeness of my involvement with school RE teaching, to wake up on Sunday morning to the news that the standard of RE in schools has (according to Ofsted) deteriorated in recent years. I haven’t yet had the chance to read the report closely, but I’ve seen enough to make me think there’s a lot of food for thought here. For example, I note that there are specific criticisms of the way Christianity is taught, including the lack of attention to theology, and the tendency to portray Jesus mainly as a teacher of morality; and also a very interesting line about the difficulties of switching from RE to “philosophy and ethics” before students have a deep understanding of religious traditions, with the result that students often receive a very oversimplified idea of how religious traditions might inform ethical decisions. All of this reinforces my prejudices nicely, and also fits with my impression of the strengths and weaknesses of the prior knowledge our students have when they arrive at university. I’d like to think there could now be an intelligent debate about what we as a society need from RE, but am afraid that’s probably not going to happen.

I was amused, incidentally, that the National Secular Society’s response was to say that RE “should be optional, like foreign languages”. Which rather begs the question. Go ahead then, let’s make everything optional that forces pupils to see the world from another perspective than their own…

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