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RE slowly starts to rise from the dead

Former education secretary John Patten's much-mocked drive on religious education appears to be having beneficial effects.

Ian Wragg, staff inspector for RE, believes that, after years of gloomy reports from the Office for Standards in Education, and HM Inspectorate before that, there are signs that the subject is on the mend.

"Looking at the recent evidence, I suspect that the next annual report from the chief inspector will give some real grounds for encouragement," he told The TES.

"Schools are increasingly aware that they can't dilly dally around with RE, that they can't do it any old way," said Mr Wragg. "It is a statutory requirement. "I think that the attentions of OFSTED have had quite an impact. Looking at the reports one often finds them stating quite clearly that there isn't RE for all registered pupils."

Schools have been willing to try to put this right, he said, although the biggest handicap is a lack of specialist staff, a problem which cannot be rectified in just a few months.

Stephen Orchard, director of the Christian Education Movement, an RE think tank and publishing group, agrees that there are positive signs.

The combination of the new statutory inspection system and the new priority given to RE by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority "appears to have made school managers more aware of their shortcomings," said Mr Orchard who is also secretary of the RE Council which represents both education professionals and faith groups.

The most recent account of RE to date, published in an OFSTED review last May, was far from up-beat. OFSTED found, for example, that most primary schools did not meet the requirement to teach RE lessons that "reflect the fact that Britain is in the main Christian", while taking other faiths into account.

It found poor resourcing, accommodation and in-service training. Elsewhere OFSTED has identified a lack of specialist staff and a lack of commitment to the subject from school managers.

This sort of picture, currently all too typical, could however be consigned to the past. Groups like the RE Council believe that the most important change is the subject's raised national profile, largely the work of John Patten.

Ron Dearing, the chairman of SCAA, is felt to have helped with his recommendation that RE should occcupy at least 5 per cent of the curriculum time.

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