Religious Education Law being flouted in UK

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Almost half of all schools in England are not providing Religious Education to all pupils, as required by law, while RE exam entries decline.

Schools in England are legally required to teach Religious Education to all pupils but a report suggests half of academies and 40% of community schools are flouting the law.

NATRE, the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education, surveyed 663 schools in early 2019. Its findings include:

  • The number of community schools failing to teach RE to all students has risen by 6% since the last survey three years ago
  • For students in GCSE years, the situation is worse, with 64% students in year 11 and 59% in year 10 receiving no Religious Education, where RE is an optional subject
  • One third of schools said some parents withdraw their children from RE lessons, which is their legal right
  • Three quarters of schools surveyed said some RE was taught by non-specialist teachers. The number of specialist RE teachers has fallen in 28% of schools
  • 80% of schools surveyed will not offer the GCSE Religious Studies short course – a decline of 50% since 2012

The steady decline in the provision of RE led to a Commission on Religious Education, which reported in 2018. It proposed a ‘National Entitlement’ outlining the aims and purposes of RE to help pupils understand the relationship between a world view and behaviour in society; and a ‘National Plan’ to ensure improving subject knowledge among teachers.

But the Education Secretary Damian Hinds said he would not pursue the recommendations, as schools were already dealing with other education reforms and one of his priorities was to reduce teacher workloads.

Meanwhile the number of students taking GCSE Religious Studies has declined by 42.6% from 2011-2019, partly because fewer students take the short course. In 2019, 264,000 students gained a GCSE qualification in RE.  A level Religious Studies numbers are also down – 17,490 students took RE in 2019, a decrease of 5.1% on the previous year.

The British Academy report  on Theology and Religious Studies provision in UK universities, (May 2019) found 6,5000 fewer students in 2017/18 than six years ago. The decline has led to the closure or reduction in size of several university theology departments.

For more information on Religious Education see our fact sheet


Ben Wood, chair of the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education:

‘There are so many schools, of every type, primary, secondary, academy, free school, local authority school, big and small, rural, urban, in every part of the country that provide their pupils with excellent RE as part of a broad and balanced curriculum.  This makes it all the more unacceptable to hear of schools where pupils are not given the access to the religious literacy they need and deserve to support them in our increasingly pluralistic society.

RE is a vital part of the curriculum, giving pupils the chance to learn about the people in the world around them and providing them with the opportunity to discuss and debate important questions.  To deny pupils this chance means pupils are missing a crucial part of their learning, something every pupil in every school is entitled to receive.

The survey results show that the Government needs to take action and NATRE urges it to establish a National Plan for RE as recommended by the Commission on Religious Education.’

Rev Nigel Genders, the Church of England’s Chief Education Officer:

‘These results are concerning.  With 80% of the world population saying that faith is of vital importance to them, we can never hope to play our part in a global community if we fail to equip our children with proper religious literacy. RE is an essential part of everyone’s education and children are entitled to expect schools to deliver high quality RE curriculum as a core part of their offer.’

A Department for Education spokesperson said:

‘Religious Education develops children’s knowledge of the values and traditions of different faiths and cultures. It also fosters understanding between different faiths and cultures. That is why Religious Education is compulsory at all four key stages.  The proportion of time secondary schools spend teaching RE has remained broadly stable over recent years while Religious Studies remains a popular GCSE. If there are concerns that a school is not teaching RE throughout then, in the first instance, these concerns should be raised with the school or Trust. If concerns are not resolved via this method, they can be referred for further investigation.’

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders:

‘Schools are aware of their responsibilities to teach Religious Education and they do their best to fulfil these requirements in the context of timetables which are bursting at the seams with everything else that is also expected of them. This year 228,000 students in England took GCSE Religious Studies making it one of the most popular GCSE subjects even though it is not included in the English Baccalaureate suite which is prioritised by the government. The high number of GCSE entries in Religious Studies suggests it is rightly being treated as an important subject.’


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