Secular interest in RE rockets

6th March 2009 at 00:00
But there is confusion over whether daily worship counts as teaching the subject

Interest in re is soaring as the subject attracts more teachers without religious beliefs, say experts. But most agree that not enough is taught in some primaries and there is too much inconsistency in how it is taught around the country.

Modlen Lynch, secondary RE tutor for initial teacher training at Bangor University, said a lot of her students now had a purely academic interest in the subject.

"Many trainees do not have any specific religious beliefs at all," she said. "I think that change has helped RE as a subject."

According to the RE advisers TES Cymru spoke to, the expansion of the subject, away from pure Bible studies towards debates on moral and ethical issues, has broadened its appeal. Teenage pupils now study and debate controversial issues such as abortion and euthanasia.

But Ms Lynch criticised some primaries that seemed to be believe daily worship sessions were the equivalent of an RE lesson.

"RE should be done as an element within the curriculum," she said. "Although daily worship can inform RE, they aren't the same thing."

Brian Gates, chair of the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC), agreed that separating worship and RE was important.

"There's quite a bit of confusion within the popular mind about the way they relate to each other," he said. "In order to reform the professional and academic integrity of RE as a subject, it was deliberately separated from worship; they're not the same."

But Carys Thomas, RE adviser for the ESIS school improvement service, believes schools are clued up on the differences.

"We provide training on religious education and on collective worship. They are two separate things, and schools send different members of staff to them," she said.

But she agreed that increased professionalism in RE had helped change attitudes towards the subject - including attracting more trainee teachers.

RE is compulsory in schools, but there is much variation in what and how it is taught. Alongside the Assembly government's RE framework, each authority produces its own syllabus together with the local standing advisory council on religious education.

All state schools in Wales must also have a "broadly" Christian act of collective worship every day.

Since 2001, entries for GCSE with the exam board WJEC have doubled. The short course is particularly popular, with more than 48,000 pupils taking it last year.

Ms Lynch said: "We've seen a shift from looking at religion in depth to looking at what religions have to say about different topics - ethical and moral issues, for example, that are relevant to young people in the 20th century."

Professor Gates of the REC attributed the increased interest in RE to better teaching and more frequent news stories about religion. But some schools were also criticised for not employing enough dedicated RE teachers.


More RE teachers need to share good practice, according to experts at the Welsh National Centre for Religious Education.

The centre - a collaboration between Bangor University and Trinity College, Carmarthen, part-funded by all Welsh local authorities - has extensive resources, open to all schools in the country. It recently published a series of books for primaries on major world religions.

Janet Pritchard, head of Bangor's College of Education and Lifelong Learning, said the focus of RE teaching had become more diverse.

"We are hoping to get more primary and secondary teachers to share good practice, especially with the new curriculum."

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