THE general view of RE in most schools at present is that it is taking a more prominent role within the curriculum. Levels of compliance with legal requirements have risen and it is taking its place within curriculum planning, teaching and learning in primary schools. GCSE (short course) RE entries were 11 times higher in 2000 than in 1996.
The emphasis given to "education with character" in the recent Green Paper must surely offer a brighter prospect for a continuing, if not enhanced, role for RE in all schools alongside citizenship. Issues and dilemmas of values in citizenship and PSHE are inseparable from the beliefs that underpin them. The more that ethos, responsibility, community and character are emphasised, the greater the need for education about our beliefs, about ourselves, society, life and the world - what these are, where they come from, and the influence they have.
It is not just citizenship that gives an increasing point to RE. New developments in genetics and technology offer new opportunities for young people to explre and apply what they learn about values, authority, codes, opinion, beliefs, faith and practice in religion. RE should provide the religious and philosophical vocabulary, knowledge and skills to help pupils cope with choices not faced by humankind before. RE has greater opportunities now to do what it has always said it should - to equip young people to make choices in a changing world and a pluralist society.
In many schools RE is doing this. It enables pupils to "learn from religion" as well as "learn about religions".
New agreed syllabuses allow pupils to link the study of, for example, religious beliefs, celebrations, key figures and religious buildings with their own experiences and communities. Many pupils are enjoying the rigour of GCSE Religious Studies, and its relevance to the moral and social issues that concern them.
John Keast is principal manager, religious education, citizenship, PSHE for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, 83 Piccadilly, London W1J 8QA. Tel: 020 7509 5555. Web: www.qca.org.uk