In the next 12 months, RE faces challenges but multiple opportunities.
Primary teachers and coordinators of RE continue to be challenged by the level of subject knowledge required to teach and lead this subject well. RE isn’t always seen as a priority and many coordinators find themselves having to fight for their subject to be recognised as robust, rigorous and academic.
We would like to challenge senior management teams in primaries to consider the place of this subject in the curriculum. Do we want our children to grow up in a world that lacks understanding of religion, religious life and non-religious world views? Do we want our children to grow up in a world that is lacking understanding, tolerance and respect of these views and beliefs? Do we want children to leave school unable to understand people living and working with them in their local communities? We believe RE remains a relevant aspect of children’s education that gives them a variety of skills for later life.
In secondary schools, this year sees the start of significant changes at key stages 4 and 5, with the beginning of new GCSE and A-level courses. New specifications have been approved for all four exam boards for first examination in 2018. At GCSE and A-level, the main change sees a greater emphasis placed on the study of religion (two at GCSE, one at A-level) alongside areas of study such as philosophy of religion, ethics and textual studies.
The study of religions and the requirement for two religions (including the diversity within that religion) to be studied in depth at GCSE will be new for many. While there are many textbooks being published for these courses, effective teaching requires that teachers have a deeper understanding of the subject, so relying on the textbook is likely to be inadequate.
The Religious Education Council (the umbrella organisation for more than 60 groups that are interested in RE) has begun a formal review of the legal and wider policy framework for RE, covering everything from the role of standing advisory councils for religious education (SACREs) to the right of withdrawal, which will be presented in 2018. This review will draw on evidence submitted by a range of interested parties, including teachers, to present some conclusions about the future of relgious education nationally.
Across the phases, different ideas about the purpose and content of RE have produced a creative and energetic tension that sees many teachers sharing and discussing ideas. While there remain significant challenges to RE in some schools, we are optimistic about a future in which RE teachers from a wide range of situations are contributing to the improvement of our subject for the benefit of all of our students.
Katie Freeman teaches at Hyde Park Infant School in Plymouth and is member of the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE) executive. Benjamin Wood is vice-chair (secondary) of NATRE and subject leader for religious studies at Haslingden High School, Lancashire. He tweets @Ben_Wood_RE. NATRE runs a Twitter chat every first Monday of the month, which is also published on natre.org.uk