A Westminster Hall debate has been announced for World Book Day, taking place on Wednesday 6 March 2024 at 2:30pm. This debate will be led by Nickie Aiken MP.
As schools policy is a devolved topic, this briefing mainly focuses on religious education (RE) teaching in England – although there is also some limited Information on other parts of the UK.
For England, this page provides a brief overview of the rules around RE in state-funded schools. It also outlines concerns that have been raised about the quality and extent of RE teaching.
Position in curriculum
Religious Education (RE) must be taught by all state-funded schools. However, it has an unusual position on the curriculum: it is part of the basic curriculum but not the National Curriculum, and is one of two subjects (along with sex and relationship education) where parents have a legal right to withdraw their children from class.
All state-funded schools must teach religious education (RE). Maintained schools without a religious character must follow the syllabus agreed by the local Agreed Syllabus Conference (ASC), an occasional body which local authorities are required to establish.
Each Local Authority has a statutory duty to establish a Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE) to advise it on the provision of RE and convene any ASC.
RE in a school with a religious character must be provided in accordance with the school’s trust deed or, where provision is not made by a trust deed, in accordance with the beliefs of the religion or denomination specified in the order that designates the school as having a religious character.
The Department for Education’s Governance Handbook provides information on the teaching of RE in other schools:
VA schools designated with a religious character must provide RE in accordance with the trust deed or religious designation of the school, unless parents request the locally agreed syllabus.
Foundation schools and VC schools designated with a religious character must follow the locally agreed syllabus, unless parents request RE in accordance with the trust deed or religious designation of the school.
RE is compulsory in both academies designated with a religious character and those without (except for Alternative Provision academies), as set out in their funding agreement.
Entries to GCSE RE
GCSE RE entries from English schools have increased significantly compared to 2010. In 2010, there were 176,400 entries. In 2022, there were around 221,300 entries. RE GCSE entries reached a peak of around 269,500 in 2015. (Source: Department for Education, Key stage four performance, various years).
Commentary on RE teaching
National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE) position
NATRE continues to call for more funding to support initial teacher training of subject specialists in RE, and in particular, for bursary funding for ITT RE applicants. Bursaries and scholarships provide additional, non-repayable support for recruits in shortage or strategic subjects; subject and candidate eligibility for these and other ITT incentives are updated annually.
Ofsted report, May 2021
In May 2021, the education inspectorate for England, Ofsted, published a report on religious education teaching in schools. This argued that RE was “vital in preparing pupils to engage in a diverse and complex multi-religious and multi-secular society”, but that there were a number of significant challenges limiting high quality provision, including:
- insufficient time to teach an ambitiousRE curriculum
- school decisions that are not taken in the best interests of all pupils, such as decisions concerning the statutory teaching ofRE, the opportunity to take a qualification in religious studies, or early examination entry
- a lack of consideration about what it means to ‘be scholarly’ in objective, critical and pluralisticRE
- a lack of clarity on what constitutes reliable knowledge about religion/non-religion, leading to teachers embedding unhelpful misconceptions
- teaching approaches that do not support pupils to remember theRE curriculum in the long term
- approaches to assessment that are poorly calibrated to theRE curriculum
- insufficient development ofRE practitioners to address gaps in professional subject knowledge.
2021 report on funding for SACREs
In May 2021, the National Association of Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education (NASACRE) published a report on SACRE funding in England. This was based on freedom of information (FOI) requests to English local authorities, 136 of which submitted responses. Of the responding local authorities:
- The majority of SACREs in England reported not getting a sufficient share of the main education grant to local authorities, the Dedicated schools grant (DSG) to enable them to carry out their duties well.
- Only 12 Local Authorities in 2019-2020 stated that they used 2% or more of local authorities’ Central Schools Services Block (CSSB – one of the DSG’s four blocks) funds on SACRE business, meaning 92% of SACREs were allocated less than 2% of the CSSB.
- 25 Authorities (18%) claim to use no funding on SACRE business in contravention of statutory responsibilities.
- Over a quarter (27%) of Authorities told us they allocate no funds to professional support for the SACRE. More than half of LAs (42, 53%) disclosed that they do not use any funds to support RE in schools.
- Due to lack of adequate support it is increasingly difficult for some SACREs to fulfil their statutory duties; 7 LAs told us that their Agreed Syllabus was over 6 years old. One syllabus was last reviewed in 2010.
Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland
There is Welsh Government guidance on reformed Religion, Values and Ethics subject area. Under the recently-revised Curriculum for Wales, there is no parental right to withdraw children from this curriculum area. A briefing from Senedd Research provides further general background on the curriculum reforms, including on their phased introduction from September 2022.
Education Scotland has published guidance on religion and moral education (RME), and religious education (RE) in non-denominational and denominational schools, respectively. The Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA) are currently co-convening a wide-ranging review of education in Scotland, called the National Discussion, which is due to conclude in December 2022.
Religion: Education | 20 Sep 2022 | Written questions | Answered | House of Commons | 45370
Religion: Education | 10 Jun 2022 | Written questions | Answered | House of Commons | 9999
Religion: Education | 25 Apr 2022 | Written questions | Answered | House of Commons | 154376
Schools: Religion | 07 Jun 2021 | Written questions | Answered | House of Commons | 7894
Religion: Education | 17 Dec 2020 | Written questions | Answered | House of Commons | 128851
Religion: Education | 22 Jul 2020 | Written questions | Answered | House of Commons | 75997
Religious Education: Maintained Schools
Monday 12 October 2020 | Vol 682
Library briefing papers
Commons Library Briefing paper Religious Education in schools (England), 10 October 2019
OFSTED, Research review series: religious education, 12 May 2021
National Association of Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education, SACRE funding in England (link to PDF file, 385 KB), May 2021
Religious Education Council of England and Wales, Report card 2022, May 2022
Bishop Grosseteste University/ Mark Plater, Report on a survey of the religious education ITE (link to PDF, 11.8 MB [initial teacher education] cohort, 2020-21, Autumn 2021
There will be a general debate on the educational attainment of boys on Tuesday 5 March at 9:30am. This debate will take place in Westminster Hall and be led by Nick Fletcher MP.
This briefing explains the Government's plans to introduce the Advanced British Standard in England, a new qualification that will replace A Levels and T Levels.