Has the government ever let a subject in school down so badly? The following is a reading of the latest data review You could make a strong case for RE.
GCSE entries have increased by a quarter in a decade. A 50 per cent percentage increase in A-level entries since 2003 – beating the percentage increase of history and law.
Then there’s the higher than average Attainment 8 scores in schools with high rates of entry for GCSE RS, and an Ofsted research review which describes the subject as affording ‘students the opportunity to make sense of their place in the world’.
Academically rigorous, challenging, personally enriching – all of the educational assets the Government talked up so strongly in its recent Schools White Paper.
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Yet curiously, this is the same subject that has received £0 in government funding in the last five years, at a time when maths has received £154 million, English £28.5 million, and music £387 million
Why is this? When it comes to RE, I often feel there is much happening in the classroom that government ministers simply aren’t aware of.
Walk into an RE lesson and you can find young people discussing the biggest issues of the day, evaluating arguments for and against euthanasia, examining the common ground within and between some of the world’s major faiths. This is what young people find fascinating.
Shreya, a year ten students, at a Recent roundtable discussion in Parliament on the subject: the RE lesson is “the one time in school where you can talk, listen and try to make sense of people, events and beliefs in the world”.
Young people will also discuss their worldviews. It is about getting to grips their unique way to understand, experience and respond to the world.
A 2018 report by the Commission on Religious Education, a coalition of the country’s leading experts from teaching, academia, journalism and law, recommended that the subject be taught through the lens of a ‘worldview’. This approach not just recognizes the uniqueness in belief construction, but also gives students the chance to gain academic knowledge and disciplinary skills that will help them live in a multireligious or multi-secular society. We want our young people to be able to develop insights into both religious and non-religious worldviews – Atheism, Buddhism, Christianity, Hindu Dharma or Hinduism, Islam, Judaism or Sikhism to name a few.
This approach is also broadly supported by the public. When surveyed on what they thought the purpose of religious education should be – their support broadly aligned with the goals of the worldview’s vision for RE, particularly when it came to giving young people the opportunity to explore their own beliefs.
Just as we prepare young people for the world of work, so too must we prepare them to understand their own worldview – their philosophy of life that underpins their wellbeing and ability to engage meaningfully with society, colleagues in the workplace, and peers.
As the MP for Lewisham East I am proud to represent one the most diverse constituencies of the country. Our community is founded on mutual respect and understanding of other worldviews.
Simply put, these values must be taught in every classroom in the country.
If there is genuine interest in levelling education across the country, and ensuring that every child fulfills their potential then, just as the Government invested into a National Plan to Music, a properly-funded National Plan for Religious Education must and should be a priority.
It is unacceptable to continue neglecting a topic that is so crucial to getting the best out our young people.