The recent launch of the non-statutory national framework for religious education is a significant landmark. The framework is predominantly for local authorities, standing advisory councils on religious education (Sacres) and agreed syllabus conferences, but will also be of interest to faith communities, teachers, parents, governors and others.
This presents an opportunity to raise the profile of religious education nationally. A rationale for the subject, expectations for all our children and the development of local and national partnerships mean that these are exciting times for the subject.
The framework cannot be a panacea for the many issues religious education still faces. For example, it cannot improve teacher recruitment and retention, resourcing and time allocation. Neither will it solve the problems of noncompliance in secondary schools.
What it can do is encourage teachers to reflect on the place of religious education in pupils' learning, shift public perceptions of what religious education is about, and have a positive impact on society through promoting respect, sensitivity and attitudes that combat prejudice and ignorance.
At the heart of the framework is a commitment to improving religious education teaching and learning and establishing nationally agreed standards. It deliberately follows the format of other subjects in the national curriculum and contains programmes of study for key stages 1, 2 and 3 and a revised eight-level scale.
It also features two attainment targets - "learning about religion" and "learning from religion" - as well as a revised foundation stage with new exemplification on how religious education can link to the early learning goals. The 14 to 19 section has also been revised to provide clearer learning outcomes.
The consultation phase of the framework highlighted a number of issues. It was generally well received, particularly by teachers. The modelling of the framework on the national curriculum, the inclusion of the foundation stage and 14 to 19, and the experiencesopportunities sections of the framework were all particularly welcomed.
The main concerns, which the final version of the framework has sought to address, were over the legal status of the framework, how it might be used and the clarity and challenge of the level descriptions.
Another important point was the strong demand for further guidance to support the implementation of the framework. Most commonly requested were new or revised schemes of work, materials to exemplify standards and support for assessment, and to widen the use of ICT in the classroom.
All of these suggestions are being considered by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and the DfES.
A key task in taking forward this framework will be to build on some of the excellent work done at a local level by education authorities and Sacres.
We are also keen to look at how the national context might make fuller use of the good practice contained within it, including local examples which could have a national benefit.
The recent Ofsted analysis of Sacres confirms much of the QCA's work in this area. Sacres have a vital role in prompting effective teaching and learning but sometimes lack the resources and expertise they need.
The QCA, in partnership with the DfES and Ofsted, intends to develop a self-evaluation tool against which Sacres will be able to measure their progress.
Publication of the framework marked a significant collaboration between the QCA, the DfES and all the major UK faith and belief communities, as well as religious education subject associations. While some parties have claimed that the framework focuses on atheism, those who have read it will know that, in fact, atheism is not mentioned anywhere.
Our task now is to promote good quality religious education for all children, irrespective of where they live, background, culture, race, religion or gender. To that end, I would encourage education authorities and Sacres to use the guidance to broaden and enrich pupils' learning.
l The framework is available online at www.qca.org.ukre Graham Langtree is QCA consultant for religious education