MANY schools are getting away with inadequate religious education because their local RE watchdog is failing in its duty, a new report claims.
Standing advisory councils for religious education (SACREs) are responsible for advising local authorities about RE in schools. It is the only subject not on the national curriculum which must be taught by law.
The report comes from the Government's Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. Although the QCA has overall reponsibility for the curriculum, RE syllabuses are agreed at local-authority level.
The report praised good work by the advisory councils.
Many were found to be adept at producing agreed syllabus materials, monitoring standards, handling controversial issues and forming contacts with schools, parents and other members of the local community.
But the QCA said that some were inadequate. It said "worrying problems persisted" which could affect the quality of the teaching offered in schools.
Two councils - Newham and Liverpool - had consistently failed to carry out their legal duty to produce an annual report.
The QCA also found that RE was suffering in some areas because local eucation authorities were unwilling or unable to provide RE advisers and advisory teachers.
Some schools were also still failing to appoint qualified RE staff or give the subject sufficient timetable time.
A small number of authorities, were short of council members, making meetings difficult.
The report also said that the councils were concerned that local authority inspections were neglecting RE, echoing recent findings by the Culham College Institute, a religious research agency.
Nicholas Tate, QCA chief executive at the time of the report, said: "A few SACREs seem to lack the effective support of their authorities or are not functioning well.
"It is important that the national-local partnership on which RE is based in England is fully supported at all levels."
Canon John Hall, general secretary of the National Society for Promoting Religious Education, said that RE and collective worship were very important parts of school life and that the work carried out by the councils was essential.
He also said inspectors needed to address the current lack of scrutiny by looking at authorities' delivery of their RE syllabuses.