RE is under threat from the increasing importance of citizenship. But it still offers the best basis for teaching moral values, says Geoff Teece.
Citizenship education is a government priority, forming part of an "unfulfilled agenda" set by the 1988 Education Reform Act which states that education should prepare pupils "for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life".
Should RE teachers be interested and concerned? There are good arguments for answering yes. There is little doubt that the government is concerned about the place of values in education. Arguably, so have been all governments. Nevertheless, while the previous government expressed this concern in the context of a Christian heritagespiritual and moral agenda, with RE and collective worship at the centre, the present government's agenda is somewhat different.
This agenda is about concern for disaffected youth who don't vote. It is the agenda of the active citizen who balances rights with responsibilities and, most importantly, becomes politically literate and understands and plays a part in the democratic process. It is an agenda that has cross-party support in the House of Commons.
There is no single conception of citizenship education but we now have an official one contained in Education for Citizenship and the Teaching of Democracy in Schools - better known as "The Crick report". Published in September last year, this report contains a framework for a curriculum in citizenship and recommends 5 per cent of statutory curriculum time.
The Crick report emphasises citizenship as a dimension of the curriculum rather than a "new" subject. However, rumours have been circulating that the work of the PAL (Preparation for Adult Life) group at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has been sidelined and that Education Secretary David Blunkett will announce the arrival of a "new subject" called citizenship. While there are examples in the report of how "traditional" subjects can contribute to it, I counted only one mention of RE:"RE provides opportunities to explore social and moral concerns." (page 53) An article, written by Mr Blunkett for The TES (March 26), roused suspicions about government commitment to RE. Entitled "A Curriculum for all Seasons", there wasn't a single mention of the subject.
Bernard Crick wrote in the Guardian in March 1998 that his committee had wisely stayed silent on "the RE issue". It is interesting to speculate on why such silence is wise or necessary. Those with a suspicious frame of mind might equate such silence with an implicit view that religion has no role to play in public life.
They may believe like Michael Barber, also in the Guardian in March 1998, that religion is a minority interest, a bit like cricket. A less cynical view might point to Mr Blunkett's announcement in January 1998 that RE will form part of the core curriculum for primary schools. Also, RE has maintained its place after the review of the key stage 4 curriculum. So it is not as though we are about to witness the demise of RE.
Nevertheless there are legitimate concerns that, instead of being on the main line of the curriculum, where many of us think it belongs, RE may be shunted down some siding and left to rust as the sleek, new citizenship express rushes past in a blur.
However, I would prefer to end on a positive note. The pos-sible introduction of statutory citizenship "lessons" presents RE with a challenge. In essence, it is a challenge that RE has always faced and it is this: how can RE teachers make their subject as relevant as possible, not only to the pupils but to all those in society who care about the teaching of values?
For those of us who believe that education can, and should, provide young people with conceptual frameworks that challenge a prevailing individualistic and spiritually vacuous consumer culture, RE best fits the bill. This is because, at its best, its subject matter draws on some of the wisest teachings known to humankind.
Geoff Teece is director of Westhill RE Centre, Westhill College, Selly Oak, Birmingham