Evidence from 735 inspections by HM inspectors and independent Office for Standards in Education teams in 1993-94 found provision patchy at best. Most primary schools did not meet the RE requirements, with infant departments being worse.
The findings are in one of six subject reviews published by OFSTED this week, which also highlight serious concerns about maths teaching, particularly at junior level, and about teachers' knowledge of grammar and syntax.
The RE report says: "The low priority given to religious education in recent years means that resources for teaching, especially in primary schools, in-service provision, and accommodation in some secondary schools are often unsatisfactory".
No primary school was reported to be well-resourced for RE, and about half were "poor or minimal". In most primary schools, the work was only loosely related to an agreed syllabus produced by the local Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education.
The national curriculum subject reports on English, maths, science, music, and geography add to the evidence in the chief inspector's annual report that standards are overall worse in junior classes than in other parts of the system, with about a quarter unsatisfactory.
* English In primary schools the quality of English teaching was unsatisfactory in nearly a quarter of lessons, but good in more than a third. At key stages 3 and 4 it was satisfactory or better in 83 and 86 per cent of lessons respectively, and good in nearly half.
However, they point to "persistent weaknesses" in teachers' knowledge of grammar and syntax, in the development of reading at junior and lower secondary levels and in the development of speaking and listening, particularly at key stage 2.
They say: "A significant minority of schools lacks the book resources to develop fully the reading ability of all pupils" and point to the "relatively poor performance of boys in English" despite their domination of class discussion.
* Mathematics Junior class standards are unsatisfactory in a third of schools. While primary schools give a lot of attention to routine numberwork, "in key stage 2, standards are less satisfactory, mainly because the rate of progress is too slow and misconceptions and errors are not addressed. Too many pupils are unable to recall important number facts or to compute with sufficient speed and accuracy."
Teachers' command of maths is adequate at infant level in nine-tenths of schools, and at junior level in three-quarters, but many lack confidence. However, teachers' command of the subject is good or very good in only 10 per cent of schools. Primary children enjoyed maths, but "in key stage 2 this is frequently in spite of dull and uninspiring teaching".
* Science The quality of teaching was satisfactory or better in almost four-fifths of secondary lessons, but in primary schools it was unsatisfactory in over a quarter of lessons: "There are unacceptably wide variations in the quality of science assessment, recording and reporting in primary schools. "
Inspectors say science lessons are mostly well-planned, but over-prescription limits achievement in a significant proportion of lessons. Teaching was good or very good in almost half the sixth-form lessons.
* Music When pupils go up to secondary school at 11, "they usually suffer severe discontinuity in their music education. Almost without exception, what is expected of them decreases." The report makes clear that the national curriculum Order has not yet been fully implemented.
* Geography At key stage 2 there was some of the best and some of the worst teaching. In secondary schools the quality of teaching was satisfactory or better in over four out of five lessons.