Losing faith in set subjects

17th November 2006 at 00:00
RELIGION is not a popular subject among secondary school teachers. Whether or not they were scarred by their own religious education, half the teachers in The TES curriculum survey thought teenagers should not be forced to study the subject after 14.

Yet most teachers were open-minded to the teaching of ideas of evangelical Christians. Two-thirds said schools should be allowed to teach creationism or intelligent design alongside the theory of evolution.

Pamela Draycott, from RE Today, a Christian organisation that advises schools on the curriculum, said the legal status of the subject should not be changed.

"Religious education allows children to talk about who they are and understand other people's points of view. It is a vital part of their entitlement." Anxious, no doubt, to protect their own territory, teachers in the survey did not rush to the defence of their colleagues in other subject areas. Only 41 per cent thought the compulsory status of languages at key stage 4 should be restored. There was less support for bringing back history as a core subject: 22 per cent were in favour.

Feelings about the new impostor, citizenship, were contradictory. One-third believed that 14 to 16-year-olds should not be forced to study it. However, 68 per cent believed that children should learn what it means to be British.

A report for the Government on the citizenship curriculum, which will set out ways of boosting the "Britishness" element, is expected next month. Sir Bernard Crick, the high priest of citizenship in schools, has accused ministers of "playing populist politics" and said he does not want the subject to be overloaded with British history. Chris Waller, professional officer for the Association of Citizenship Teachers, said the last thing his members wanted to see was an additional curriculum based on Britishness.

He said:"There are ways in which the cultural and constitutional aspects of the course could be emphasised without this."

At the Ivybridge community college in south Devon all 14 to 16-year-olds study citizenship for a short course GCSE. Some of the issues discussed by citizenship students included: should teaching staff be allowed to wear veils? And what is the truth behind the headlines about asylum?

Karl Sweeney, head of social studies at the college, said discussions about Britishness often focused on who should be allowed to live in the country.

He said:"There are a lot of misconceptions about immigration and asylum.

Citizenship gives us the chance to correct some of them. If you give kids the actual statistics on asylum seekers, they can make decisions on the basis of fact, rather than prejudice."

Few secondary school teachers (only 10 per cent) believed the amount of time spent teaching existing core subjects should be increased. Most (68 per cent) supported plans to curb the amount of GCSE coursework. However, the new vocational diploma, scheduled to be launched in 2008, received a mixed welcome. Just under half (49 per cent) thought it would offer an effective vocational alternative to academic qualifications. Of the rest, 20 per cent were against it, while 31 per cent said they did not know.

The new Twenty-First Century Science GCSE was hardly welcomed with open arms. Only 29 per cent said they thought it would encourage more pupils to study science at A-level.

HOW THE SUBJECTS AT KEY STAGE 4 FARED

Which of these optional subjects

should be compulsory?

Modern languages 41%

History 22%

Geography 15%

Design Technology 10%

Art 7%

Music 1%

None of these 42%

Which of these compulsory subjects should be optional?

Religious education 50%

Citizenship 33%

ICT 17%

PE 12%

Science 7%

English or Maths 1%

None of these 32%

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