Education minister Michael Gove has finally admitted that his Religious Education (RE) policies have detrimentally impacted on RE and has pledged to revisit the issue.
His admission follows 18 months of campaigning by RE teachers and experts, including the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC), which found serious shortcomings in support for RE teachers in a report published this year.
Speaking at an event ‘Church of England: education and our future’ at Lambeth Palace on 3 July, Mr Gove accepted a point made by Bishop John Pritchard of Oxford that RE had been an ‘unintended casualty’ of curriculum reforms.
Mr Gove said, ‘I don’t think I’ve done enough’, adding: ‘I thought its [RE’s] special status was protection enough’. He committed the Department for Education and Skills (DforES) to ‘revitalising the conversations on RE’.
John Keast, chair of the REC, said experts had been telling the Secretary of State that his reforms are damaging RE for some time and welcomed his comments.
He said, ‘RE is a popular and academically rigorous subject, however this government’s actions are resulting in fewer specialist teachers, lessons being cut, and exam entries going down.
‘We have also been calling for greater dialogue with the DforES, so Mr Gove’s commitment to revitalising those discussions is another positive step. We are on standby to meet Mr Gove at short notice if necessary.
‘Of course the proof of the pudding is always in the eating. We’d like to see Mr Gove’s promises backed up by some positive and urgent action to address these issues’.
Stephen Lloyd MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on RE, also welcomed Mr Gove’s recognition of concerns about the current state of RE in schools. He said, ‘We have been saying for a while that a consequence, unintended I am sure, of the changes the Secretary of State has made is leading to RE being sidelined. This has impacted on the quality and provision of lessons in schools, exam entries and teacher training places’.
Mr Lloyd said that the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Religious Education, set up by himself and colleagues last year, has been working continuously for the subject to be given the right level of support by the DforES and Mr Gove.
He added: ‘In today’s complicated world it is more important than ever that our children have an informed, accurate view of the world’s religions, and those with none.
‘Our report, published in March, on the supply of and support for RE teachers found serious shortcomings in the support available. Clearly there is an acute lack of trained RE specialists with in-depth knowledge. I hope that Mr Gove will welcome further dialogue on these issues to protect the vitality of this important subject’.