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The Future of Religious Education: Debating Reform

The Future of Religious Education: Debating Reform

RE faces very significant challenges. This paper summarises a series of expert discussions about the subject’s future, hosted by Theos in 2017. (2018)

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Religious Education is one of the most important subjects on the curriculum. When done well, it gives children the space to discuss issues about religion or belief which are shaping politics, culture and conflict globally. It can help children to think critically, challenge problematic assumptions, engage well with difference, and develop their own ideas about the world around them.

But RE in England and Wales today is facing very major challenges. In many schools, time for RE is squeezed to make room for other subjects, and too many pupils are taught by non–specialists without the subject knowledge needed to deliver high–quality teaching. There is inconsistency in the quality and content of RE syllabuses across the country. Many schools fail to provide any RE to their pupils at all, meaning they are in breach of the law.

This means that a huge number of young people are leaving school without the essential skills and knowledge they need to understand the religion or belief issues shaping events nationally and internationally. They are poorly equipped to navigate difference in our increasingly multifaith, diverse society and to respond critically to misconceptions about religion or belief. On a personal level, without access to good RE they are deprived of an important space to reflect on their own beliefs, values and identities.

This briefing paper captures the discussions of a series of roundtable discussions in 2017, hosted by Theos in partnership with Culham St Gabriel’s Trust. The series brought together a diverse group of participants, including members of RE professional bodies, policymakers and civil servants, and members of religion or belief organisations with a particular interest in RE. We had frank conversations about the issues facing the subject and considered how consensus about its future can be built between stakeholders. We also discussed three recent reports which set out the scale of the challenges facing RE and call for major and urgent reform.

The paper is intended for policymakers, RE professionals and others interested in the future of RE. It summarises the major recommendations arising from the three reports, sets out the discussions of our roundtable participants, and makes further recommendations to complement those from the reports. It makes clear that the time is right for policymakers to act to redress the issues facing the subject.

 Image by Monkey Business Images available from under licence

Simon Perfect

Simon Perfect

Simon is a Researcher at Theos. He is also a researcher and tutor at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), where he leads distance–learning courses exploring Muslim communities in Britain and in other minority settings. He is co–author of the book ‘Freedom of Speech in Universities: Islam, Charities and Counter–terrorism’ (Routledge, 2021).

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