Religious education has been a potential source of confusion for schools and teachers for some years. It’s a subject that pupils must study by law, but there is no statutory curriculum, so provision can be patchy and unsure of itself.
In a Christian school, should it only be about Christ? In a comprehensive with a mainly Muslim intake, where should one place the emphasis?
Well, the Religious Education Council (REC) has taken upon itself to clear away the fog, and lay down a new “framework” for religious education in all schools.
Although it will have no force, offering only guidance to schools and local RE decision-makers, it provides useful reading.
And it is a crowd-pleaser too: The British Humanist Association has expressed delight that non-religious perspectives are included alongside minority religions such Zoroastrianism.
The REC’s suggested curriculum says children should start learning about religious belief at the age of four, visiting place of worship such as churches and mosques.
From ages five to seven, children should then start learning about religious festivals, listen to moral stories form three different perspectives, and talk about why people pray.
Older primary children should compare how different religions and humanists celebrate marriage, it says.
Tackling the big questions about the origins and purpose of life should be left to the early years of secondary school, it adds
The chair of the REC, John Keast, said the new guidance was an “important step in securing the future of RE in our schools” because the subject has “fallen into a vacuum”.
“Having a thoroughly reconsidered national curriculum framework is a means of changing both practice and attitudes to RE,” he said.
The new framework, endorsed by education secretary Michael Gove, comes following a recent Ofsted report, which said RE was being “squeezed out” by other subjects.
The watchdog said schools were confused about the reasons for studying RE and had encountered poor teaching and assessment in the subject.
This latest effort to clear things up should help. Although schools will only be able to embrace RE if they have the time and money to do so.