Currently, 26 per cent of secondary schools are not offering religious education (RE) lessons. Among academies, which make up the majority of secondary schools, more than a third were not offering RE to 11 to 13-year-olds and almost half were not offering it to 14 to 16-year olds.
In addition to this, Government data also shows that in 2017-18, only 405 of the initial teacher training places in England for RE were filled, below the target of 643 positions available.
The picture for RE may look bleak, but maybe this is an important reminder to school leaders and potential teachers who wish to train in the subject just what the benefits are if children learn about various different religions from around the world.
Benefits of RE
The aim of religious education isn’t to preach, or tell children what they should believe, it’s about opening up the debate for children and widening their understanding of various cultures.
Firstly, RE is an important subject to provide a range of views and opinions and pupils are then exposed to these varying opinions. Exposing children to this allows them to learn about things which helps the pupils in the classroom see the world clearly. It also helps them to develop genuine understandings about the world and the people in it.
For many students, they may not have the opportunity until they are older to go and see the world for themselves. Providing religious education doesn’t have to just stick to the various religions, it can expand into the realms of different cultures and therefore actually provides students with an understand of cultures that may be different to that of their own.
In addition, religious education can also be a subject which provides students with hidden skills. Other humanitarian subjects are well-known for the skills that they can develop. For example, history and politics are renowned for their ability to teach students interpretative skills, the ability to debate, to learn respect and how to collaborate effectively.
The question is here, is that if religious education is a humanity, and these skills can be learned within the subject, why is it frequently overshadowed? The differing beliefs and cultures that are brought into the lesson plans teaches children that individuals can differ in their opinion of something and it also teaches a student to go back and evaluate their own beliefs, and it can teach them religious knowledge that they may not have been aware of.
Predictions for the future
It’s unlikely that the teacher retention crisis is going to improve any time soon. There is already a shortage of teachers signing up to teach religious education, so is it a case of going back to basics and reviving the purpose of why the subject is needed? Only then will we develop passionate, aware students who understand the benefits the subject of religious education brings and will continue to adopt this mentality throughout their lives and hopefully inspire others by teaching religious education, too.
By Ellie Ashwell, Mango at PLMR.