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Ofsted: Making Sense of Religion Print E-mail



This Ofsted Report, "Making Sense of Religion", is likely to be welcomed by most of the fifty member organisations which make up the RE Council of England and Wales. It is possible to say this since it is largely in line with two documents which the REC itself published on May 2nd. One was the Report of the RE Teaching Commission which collates evidence on the quality and quantity of RE provision from other sources as well as Ofsted. The other, building on the Commission Report, was a proposal for a National Strategy for RE in England expressly designed to tackle any current deficiencies. Access to both is available via the RE Council’s website: www.religiouseducationcouncil.org

Key points on which we would particularly pick up are as follows:

1.    There is abundant evidence that teaching and learning in RE can be challenging and popular across all age ranges, and irrespective of how involved or otherwise a pupil is in institutional religion. There is no less evidence that in some schools more than others RE is neither interesting nor challenging. Where this happens, both the pupils and the subject matter are not being taken seriously – neither are being properly appreciated.

2.    RE’s position in the curriculum is to give space and priority for children and young people to make sense of their own and other people’s deepest beliefs and values as relevant for their future lives. Public education without this has a hole in its heart.

3.    Teachers are massively exposed in having responsibility for this dimension of learning. As with their peers in society at large, there are different degrees of religious belief and unbelief, different levels of understanding of our plural religious world and of how best to make moral judgements. Whether as general class teachers or as subject specialists, they too deserve space and priority in their own education and training, both initially and ongoing to be refreshed and deepened in such regards. We would like to have seen more acknowledgment of the urgency of providing this access to secure subject knowledge and of the funding necessary.

4.    SACREs have invaluable potential to support and monitor RE within each local authority area, and to be oases for community cohesion which can have positive impact on the whole curriculum . However, as the Report implies, they need more adequate funding to be consistently effective. Their membership needs to be strengthened. SACREs’ scope needs to be extended across all maintained schools and colleges, including academies.

5.    The Framework for RE in England is a very significant reference point for RE. It was the result of intensive work within and between faith communities and professional associations. It invites syllabus makers across the LAs and those responsible for denominational schools to think hard and imaginatively about the depth of understanding and discernment which they might want for every school/college leaver, for their own sake, but also for that of local, national and global communities to which they belong.

6.    The proposal that consideration be given to the Framework’s becoming Statutory, perhaps even National Curriculum – in England - is fair, but with two provisos:
•    the current strengths arising from SACREs and from the present facility for local variants in the RE syllabus according to distinctive communal contexts should not be put at risk (significantly such flexibility is now apparently being extended by QCA to National Curriculum subjects)
•    the discretion of voluntary aided schools to correlate the Framework with the particularities of their distinctive faith perspective should also be preserved.
Accordingly, any consultation process would need to be seen to be genuinely open.

7.    The 16-19 passage is the least satisfactory in the Report. On the basis of extensive non-compliance with RE requirements, in schools and colleges operating within school regulations, the judgement is made that the legal expectation is wrong and should be dropped. No consideration is given to the alternative that the law is right and provision should accordingly be strengthened both in these institutions and in the FE sector. That would have been nearer to the position expressed in the REC’s National Strategy for RE.

Overall, the RE Council is glad to note the high degree of consistency between Ofsted's Long Report and that of the REC's Teaching Commission. We are pleased that both reports can now be considered by Ministers. We look for a positive response which will put in place a strategy that will guarantee effective RE provision for all throughout education 4-19.

The OFSTED report “Making Sense of Religion” can be downloaded from the OFSTED web site.
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