One in four schools is cutting back on specialist RE teachers after the subject was excluded from the English Baccalaureate portfolio of desirable GCSEs, new research shows.
The poll of 625 schools by the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE) shows the reduction in staff from the beginning of this term compared with one year ago. More than 80 per cent put the cut down to the EBac, awarded to pupils achieving grades A*-C in five traditional core subjects.
The survey showed that in nearly half of schools, at least one in 10 RE lessons is given by a teacher seconded from another department. Nearly 20 per cent of schools reported having to cut teaching time for RE lessons.
The findings come as campaigners continue to call for the government to include RE in the EBac. NATRE claims that the introduction of new O level- style English Baccalaureate Certificates has made the subject even more vulnerable.
Ministers say the subject will be protected because schools have a statutory requirement to teach it, but NATRE's survey suggests a third of schools are failing to meet this requirement from Year 10 onwards, a rise of 5 per cent on 2011.
Rosemary Rivett, the organisation's executive officer, expressed concern that subjects not included in the EBac will find it difficult to maintain "a credible place" on the timetable.
"The results of this year's survey indicate that the subject has come under significant pressure since the introduction of the EBac in terms of teaching time, meeting statutory requirements and access to specialist teachers," she said.
Ms Rivett added that the situation could have a negative effect on the recruitment of RE teachers to the profession: NATRE has received numerous calls in the past few weeks from people asking if it is worth training at all. "There is a crisis in RE that has been gathering pace since the introduction of the EBac," she said.
Ed Pawson, NATRE's chairman, also called on the government to hold an "urgent inquiry into why so many schools are neglecting a subject they say is compulsory".
The Revd Jan Ainsworth, chief education officer for the Church of England, said that omitting RE from the EBac would mean schools stopped seeing it as a priority. "This survey reinforces all our worst fears," she said. "The provision and quality of RE teaching in our schools will be diminished."
Meanwhile, leading figures in other subjects excluded from the EBac have expressed concerns about the sidelining of the arts. Headteachers and subject associations have also spoken of their concerns for other non-core subjects such as PE, drama, art, and design and technology.
Cellist Julian Lloyd Webber last week joined the Schools Music Association in calling on education secretary Michael Gove to confirm that Britain's music education will be safeguarded in spite of the push towards core subjects.
"Some of these children will never touch a musical instrument, so will never find out how much natural talent they have," he said. "When I went to the junior school of the Royal College of Music in the late 1960s and early 1970s, more than half the students were from state schools. This will no longer be the case."
A Department for Education spokesperson said: "RE remains a statutory part of the wider school curriculum for every single student up to 18. It's rightly down to schools themselves to judge how it is taught and how it fits into wider school life. The EBac will not prevent any school from offering RE GCSEs."
Crisis of faith?
33% of schools reported failing to meet the statutory requirement to offer RE in Years 10 and 11.
24% of schools reported a reduction in specialist RE teachers for September 2012.
27% of schools reported a reduction in specialist RE teachers for September 2011.
20% of schools reported having to teach GCSE religious studies in less than the recommended teaching time.
47% of schools reported that at least one in 10 RE lessons was taught by a non-specialist.
A crisis in RE has been gathering pace since the introduction of the EBac.