Religion will still be a key part of RE even if curriculum expands to include 'worldviews', says teacher

Lancashire RE teacher Ben Wood says it is "unacceptable" that every child does not have high quality access to the subject.
Lancashire RE teacher Ben Wood says it is "unacceptable" that every child does not have high quality access to the subject.

The inclusion of ‘worldviews’ in religious education will not result in political concepts like socialism becoming part of the subject, according to a Lancashire RE teacher.

But Ben Wood, who heads the RE department at Haslingden High School, admitted that the “quietly radical” recommendations made by a recent nationwide review of the topic could lead to “a shift in emphasis”.

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And he also told the committee which writes the RE syllabus for schools in the Lancashire County Council area that it is “unacceptable” that every child is not guaranteed a high quality religious education.

A commission into the future of the subject concluded last month that it should be renamed ‘Religion and Worldviews’ and ensure pupils are taught about “a range of religious, philosophical, spiritual and other approaches to life”.

The report, written by the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr. John Hall, suggested that non-religious worldviews, such as humanism, secularism and agnosticism, should be included in the curriculum.

Abdul Qureshi, chair of the Lancashire Council of Mosques, told members of the Standing Advisory Committee on Religious Education (SACRE) that the subject seemed to be transforming into “a kind of philosophy of life”.

“So why not include socialism and capitalism – they are worldviews?” Mr. Qureshi asked.

Mr. Wood, who is also chair of the National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE), said he thought the proposed change called for a more “conceptual” approach – but one which still focussed on matters of “fundamental concern” to religion.

“Socialism offers a perspective on part of life, but it is not a wholly encompassing worldview,” he said.

And Mr. Wood added that simply working through a list of religions would not be in the spirit of the suggested curriculum – should it ever be formally adopted by the government.

“Some people have seen [the recommendations] as a diminution of religion. That remains to be seen – but they do seek to take a slightly different angle,” he told the committee.

The meeting also heard that differences within individual religions and diversity of religious identity could become a bigger focus in the classroom.

Lancashire’s current syllabus – which is also used by schools in other areas of the country – is thought already to be largely compatible with the commission’s proposals.

TIME ON THE TIMETABLE

Whatever the future shape of the subject, one committee member worried that staff were not being given the time to teach RE.

County Cllr Sobia Malik said that the “terrible” exclusion of the topic from the English Baccalaureate (Ebacc) – a measure of school performance judged by grades in a set list of subjects – is putting “unfair pressure” on schools to find a place for RE.

The subject is currently mandatory up to the age of 16 in all local authority schools and academies. But figures analysed by NATRE reveal that a third of all schools do not offer the subject to pupils at GCSE level – and for academies without a religious affiliation, that figure rises to over 40 percent.

Ben Wood warned that including RE in the Ebacc would be a “blunt tool” which could cause a corresponding drop in students of history and geography. But he said that there was currently “no comeback” on schools which fail to meet their legal obligation to teach the subject.

The regulator, OFSTED, can assess schools on how well they teach RE – but it does not sanction them for failing to teach it at all.

“My school is a very ordinary comprehensive, but we get good results in RE. That should happen everywhere,” Mr. Wood said.

The meeting heard that NATRE is working with more than a thousand primary schools to improve the quality of RE in the classroom by mentoring teachers. Some trainee primary school teachers have as little as three hours’ training in the subject, members were told.