Thinking Anglicans

OFSTED criticises Religious Education in English schools

The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (OFSTED) has issued a report on Religious Education in English schools.

You can find the full report text, and a summary, on this page. OFSTED itself says:

Religious education (RE) makes a significant contribution to pupils’ academic and personal development. It also plays a key role in promoting social cohesion and the virtues of respect and empathy, which are important in our diverse society. However, the potential of RE was not being realised fully in the majority of the schools surveyed for this report.

The report identifies barriers to better RE and suggests ways in which the subject might be improved. The report is written for all those who teach RE, for those who lead the subject, and for headteachers of primary and secondary schools.

The key findings of the report are copied in full below the fold.

The Church of England issued this statement:

The Revd Jan Ainsworth, the Church of England’s Chief Education officer has issued a statement in response to today’s publication from Ofsted Religious education: realising the potential which says that schools and the government have failed to focus effectively on religious education.

“It is no comfort to us that Ofsted’s detailed report on the state of Religious Education in this country’s schools confirms all the messages we have been giving the Secretary of State over the last two years. The Report places the blame for poor standards squarely on government policy. In particular the removal of support and squeeze on places for training RE teachers is a scandal and will take years to reverse. RE is still core curriculum in Church schools and we repeat our offer to the Mr Gove to work with him and the whole RE community to improve commitment and competence in this essential part of every child’s education.”

Media coverage is extensive:

Telegraph Ofsted: Christianity sidelined in poor quality RE lessons

Independent Ofsted says religious education teaching ‘not good enough’

BBC Over half of schools failing in religious education, says Ofsted

Observer Church of England attacks Michael Gove over state of religious education

Mail on Sunday The pupils who are so badly taught they don’t even know who Jesus was

Express Schools failing pupils on RE

The BBC Radio 4 programme Sunday also covered it at length, starting about 30 minutes in.

Key findings:

  • Weaknesses in provision for RE meant that too many pupils were leaving school
    with low levels of subject knowledge and understanding.
  • Achievement and teaching in RE in the 90 primary schools visited were less than
    good in six in 10 schools.
  • Achievement and teaching in RE in the 91 secondary schools visited were only
    good or better in just under half of the schools. The picture was stronger at Key
    Stage 4 and in the sixth form than at Key Stage 3.
  • Most of the GCSE teaching seen failed to secure the core aim of the examination
    specifications: that is, to enable pupils ‘to adopt an enquiring, critical and
    reflective approach to the study of religion’.
  • The provision made for GCSE in the majority of the secondary schools surveyed
    failed to provide enough curriculum time for pupils to extend and deepen their
    learning sufficiently.
  • The teaching of RE in primary schools was not good enough because of
    weaknesses in teachers’ understanding of the subject, a lack of emphasis on
    subject knowledge, poor and fragmented curriculum planning, very weak
    assessment, ineffective monitoring and teachers’ limited access to effective
  • The way in which RE was provided in many of the primary schools visited had the
    effect of isolating the subject from the rest of the curriculum. It led to low-level
    learning and missed opportunities to support pupils’ learning more widely, for
    example, in literacy.
  • The quality of teaching in the secondary schools visited was rarely outstanding
    and was less than good in around half of the lessons seen. Common weaknesses
    included: insufficient focus on subject knowledge; an over-emphasis on a limited
    range of teaching strategies that focused simply on preparing pupils for
    assessments or examinations; insufficient opportunity for pupils to reflect and
    work independently; and over-structured and bureaucratic lesson planning with a
    limited focus on promoting effective learning.
  • Although the proportion of pupils taking GCSE and GCE examinations in RE
    remains high, in 2011 nearly 250 schools and academies did not enter any pupils
    for an accredited qualification in GCSE.
  • Around half of the secondary schools visited in 2011 and 2012 had changed, or
    were planning to change, their curriculum provision for RE in response to changes
    in education policy. The impact of these changes varied but it was rarely being
    monitored carefully.
  • Assessment in RE remained a major weakness in the schools visited. It was
    inadequate in a fifth of the secondary schools and a third of the primary schools.
    Many teachers were confused about how to judge how well pupils were doing in
  • Access to high-quality RE training for teachers was poor. Training had a positive
    impact on improving provision in only a third of the schools visited; its impact was
    poor in a further third. Many of the schools surveyed said that support from their
    local authority and SACRE had diminished.
  • Leadership and management of RE were good or better in half the schools
    visited; however, weaknesses were widespread in monitoring provision for RE
    and in planning to tackle the areas identified for improvement.
  • The effectiveness of the current statutory arrangements for RE varies
    considerably. Recent changes in education policy are having a negative impact on
    the provision for RE in some schools and on the capacity of local authorities and
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Robert Ian Williams
Robert Ian Williams
10 years ago

Surely as Britain faces a multicultural future, this subject needs priority in the battle for understanding and mutal trust. As an RE / history teacher I would agree with this analysis.

Interested Observer
Interested Observer
10 years ago

The Church of England has a problem if it wants to be influential over curriculum matters.

If a teacher stands at the front of the room and says that women and gays are second-class citizens, and that certain jobs should be reserved for straight men and straight men alone, Ofsted would be all over them like a cheap suit.

But the CofE’s official policy is precisely that.

So why should a sexist and homophobic organisation be listened to when it comes to setting educational policy? Why doesn’t the CofE fix its own problems first?

Erika Baker
Erika Baker
10 years ago

Interested Observer, yes, if a teacher stood at the front saying those things it would be wrong. But the RE curriculum is not about women and gay people. The first time these topics come up is in Philosophy and Ethics in Year 12, when students who choose them as essay topics are expected to research the position of various Christian denominations and the debate within the church, and where they then write a proper analysis concluding with their own balanced opinion. No-one “stands at the front” indoctrinating them. That doesn’t make the churches’ official positions on those issues remotely acceptable,… Read more »

robert ian Williams
robert ian Williams
10 years ago

Interested observer…the British classroom is not a police state. Whilst I deprecate homophobia, an RE teacher would still have the right to sensitively teach in a religious school (state funded or otherwise) that practising homosexuality is still regarded by the sponsoring faith tradition as a sin. Even in a state school, a teacher could tell pupils about differing views. At GCSE (16 year exams) students discuss and debate the issue of abortion and other ethical issues. Pupils in Catholic schools know for instance that abortion is a sin, but also the arguments for, and where the other side are coming… Read more »

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