curriculumThe Rose Review of the Primary Curriculum has recommended that ICT is placed centre stage alongside English, maths and personal skills. According to the author of the report, Sir Jim Rose the former schools inspections director these are the “essentials for learning and life”.

His final report advocates six broad areas of understanding:

English, communication and languages

Mathematical understanding

The arts

Historical, geographical and social

Physical development, health and wellbeing

Scientific and technological

In response to those that have criticised him for doing away with the curriculum’s more ‘traditional’ subjects, Rose has said:

“My recommended areas of learning will not ‘abolish’ subjects, such as history or geography…The essential content of these subjects must be taught well in order for children to be able to make links between them, which is what having the six new areas of learning will allow teachers to do.”

Whilst the news is reporting six new areas of learning, there is of course the issue of Religious Education (RE) which appears to have somehow gone under the radar. This is not the case on the Department for Children, Schools & Families (DCSF) website. Whilst no mention to RE is made in the text, from the menu on the side of the page seven programmes of learning are identified: RE being the final one of these. Here a pdf advising on the teaching of RE in the primary setting is available to download.

Sadly, the primary review failed to address – possibly even consider – some of the key problems with the teaching of RE in schools despite seemingly overhauling the rest of the curriculum. All maintained schools, whether they have a religious character or not, are required to teach RE to all pupils. Unlike other subjects, RE is part of the ‘Basic Curriculum’ rather than the ‘National Curriculum’ and so is not subject to the same prescribed attainment targets, programmes of study or assessment arrangements that those in the National Curriculum are.

Put simply, most faith schools have the right to teach RE in accordance with the tenets of their faith, but non-faith – the majority of state schools – teach a locally agreed RE syllabus that is produced by the local Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE). Since 1988 every local authority (LA) with responsibility for education is required by law to have a SACRE. While their origins go back to the Education Act of 1944, both the Education Reform Act 1988 and the Education Act 1996 have been seen by critics of strengthening their position within the LA. As such, SACREs are responsible for advising LAs and the schools that fall within their remit on RE and collective worship. The RE syllabus is not therefore nationally agreed as with all other subjects nor indeed is it devised, implemented, taught or monitored in the same way as all other subjects.

Unsurprisingly, research has shown that the kind of advice and support offered by SACREs varies widely. Where shown to be effective, SACREs carry out a range of responsibilities from providing support to implement an Agreed Syllabus to monitoring local schools’ OFSTED inspection reports on RE. Nonetheless, each SACRE is required to publish an Annual Report which is sent to the Qualifications and Assessment Authority (QCA) and these reports provide the basis for any QCA analysis of the work of SACREs. However, because RE sits outside the National Curriculum, it is questionable as to the effectiveness of these given the lack of any consistency of approach, content and so on.

It is necessary that any overhaul of the school’s curriculum therefore includes a review of the teaching of RE. The obvious step would be for the teaching of RE to be incorporated into the National Curriculum rather than leaving it in the unregulated Basic Curriculum, thereby introducing a national syllabus in place of the multiplicity of locally agreed syllabuses that are currently in place. It would not address the issue of faith schools being able to devise their own RE syllabuses and so remaining outside the national framework but it would begin to ensure that all subjects would be “taught well in order for children to be able to make links between them” that the review will – allegedly – allow teachers to do.

Creative Commons License

This work by Chris Allen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. Based on a work at www.chris-allen.co.uk.

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