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Rutland school leaders respond to Ofsted criticism of religious education

Rutland school leaders have responded to an Ofsted report which said schools need to add depth to their religious education curriculum.

RE forms part of the basic curriculum for all state-funded primary and secondary schools up to the end of sixth form. However, unlike other subjects, the RE content is not nationally defined.

Ofsted, the government office for the inspection of education services, published its ‘Deep and meaningful? The religious education subject’ report on April 17, in which it says the place of religion in schools is "complex".

Excited school children in school uniform with hands up ready to answer a question from the teacher. Photo: istock
Excited school children in school uniform with hands up ready to answer a question from the teacher. Photo: istock

It went onto say: "The RE curriculum often lacked sufficient substance to prepare pupils to live in a complex world, and the content selected was rarely enough to ensure that pupils were well prepared to engage in a multi-religious and multi-secular society.

“A superficially broad curriculum does not always provide pupils with the depth of knowledge they require for future study and, in most cases, where the curriculum tried to cover many religions, like equal slices of a pie, pupils generally remembered very little. What schools taught was rarely enough for pupils to make sense of religious and non-religious traditions as they appear around the world.

“There was a profound misconception among some leaders and teachers that ‘teaching from a neutral stance’ equates to teaching a non-religious worldview. This is simply not the case.”

The report also highlighted the fact that Ofsted inspectors found that there has been little improvement in the quality of RE in schools across the country since the last report was published in 2013.

The Rutland SACRE (standing advisory council on religious education) had its first meeting since the report was published on Wednesday (June 12) to discuss the findings.

Amanda Flitton, RE officer for Rutland, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough County Councils, said: “I think the root of the problems highlighted in the Ofsted report goes back to the lack of training at primary school level.

“We have so many new teachers coming into primary schools who have little or no RE training, and they are often like rabbits in the headlights where they are very sacred of the subject. They don’t understand RE because their subject knowledge is very poor. I think part of that is down to schools who are not sending teachers out for professional development.

“I realise there is a need to prioritise other subjects such as English and mathematics because of SATS; but with so many new routes into teaching now, and most of them only being one-year courses, instead of the three-years previously, there is a real lack of ability to train in-depth, in some subjects, as we might like, and RE is one of those.”

Daniel Alfieri, from Peterborough Diocese, added: “There are real challenges at the moment making sure that staff have on-going training, and yes, if the new teachers coming into education don’t have a personal interest in a subject, they may not have had many sessions on RE specifically.

“It, therefore, often comes down to the school that they arrive at, and the budgetary pressures that school may be under, to decide if a teacher can be released for specific training such as RE.

“I would say however, that the schools that we work with in Rutland do not prioritise only literacy and maths, as important as they are, but in my experience there are opportunities in Rutland for additional curriculum training in other subjects including RE.

“As Amanda has pointed out, there are some fabulous training opportunities in Rutland in RE, so the question is how do we address that matter and get the schools in this county to take it up?”

Elizabeth Papworth, from Rutland County Council, said: “Over the last ten years there has been a genuine shortage of take-up of places on these training programmes, which has meant that some centres have closed down. Roehampton was one of the biggest teacher training centres for RE, and they have had to stop some of their teacher training for that very reason – so we must look at the problem of investing in teachers.”

James McWhirter, of Rutland Deanery, said: “I think it is important for us to look at the quality of RE training in Rutland as well. Certainly looking at the comments in the report, and our own personal experiences, the quality of RE education in Rutland might be ‘bucking the trend’, compared to some other local authorities.

“It’s difficult to prove that; but if that is the case in Rutland, and we do have the balance better than in some areas, then perhaps SACRE can write to the DfE and ask them if they have taken note of this? In that way, Rutland can help promote the changes that are needed nationally for RE.”

Ms Flitton summed up by saying: “This is a really good report, but I just hope that somebody in the Department for Education will look at it, and actually understand how much this subject brings to our pupils lives.”

The next meeting of the Rutland SACRE is on September 10.

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