BHA: New Ofsted report finds most schools providing inadequate RE

A new report published today by Ofsted has found that the majority of schools are failing to provide adequate Religious Education (RE) to students.

The report, which focuses on Voluntary Controlled schools and schools without a religious character, makes clear throughout that RE should see non-religious as well as religious beliefs be taught about, and recommends a review of the existing statutory arrangements of RE in order to improve its quality. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has welcomed the report, calling for a nationally determined RE syllabus instead of the current system of local determination.

On improving pupils’ knowledge, Ofsted found that ‘most pupils had had insufficient opportunity to develop an understanding of the way in which the beliefs, practices, values and ways of life of specific religions and non-religious world views are linked’ and ‘a more sophisticated understanding of the impact, both positive and negative, that religion and belief can have on individuals and society.’ It was also found that ‘Teachers were unwilling to open up enquiry in case pupils asked challenging or controversial questions with which they felt ill-equipped to deal’ and that teachers ‘Limit[ed] enquiry by directing pupils to a “happy end”. Teachers signalled to pupils that they wanted a positive ‘right answer’ about the value of religion, limiting the opportunity to explore more controversial possibilities.’ Finally, ‘too often the tendency was to allow any opinion or viewpoint to stand unopposed, reinforcing a view among pupils that, in matters related to religion or morality, one opinion was as valid as any other. There was insufficient focus on exploring weaker or stronger lines of argument. It was rare to find teachers establishing a climate in which pupils recognised that their opinions needed to be underpinned by good reasoning, and that some points of view were better supported and argued for than others.’

On local determination of the syllabus, the report says that ‘The structures that underpin the local determination of the RE curriculum have failed to keep pace with changes in the wider educational world. As a result, many local authorities are struggling to fulfil their responsibility to promote high-quality religious education… schools often found it difficult to incorporate the prescription of the locally agreed syllabus within their more integrated curriculum…. The Department for Education should review the current statutory arrangements for RE in relation to the principle of local determination to ensure these keep pace with wider changes in education policy, and revise or strengthen these arrangements as appropriate.’

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association (BHA), commented, ‘It is vital that young people learn about religious and non-religious beliefs and values in an enquiring and critical way and a subject that enables this deserves its place in the curriculum. We share Ofsted’s concerns about the inadequate quality of some teaching in RE today. In particular, while this report is to be commended for its emphasising throughout that schools should teach about non-religious as well as religious beliefs, many locally agreed syllabuses and schools still fail to cover beliefs such as humanist ones, and many fail to critically scrutinise the claims made by different religions and beliefs – just as Ofsted has found.

‘We have long argued that large part of the cause of these problems is the locally determined nature of RE, leading to a huge variability of quality of attitudes towards non-religious participation and quality of syllabuses, something Oftsed has also identified as a problem. We support Ofsted’s call for a review of the current legal arrangements underpinning this system, and would push for national determination instead. This position is supported by a huge number of those active in RE and we would urge Government to bring it about.’


For further comment or information, please contact Andrew Copson on 07855 380 633.
Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on Religious Education:
The Religious Education Council for England and Wales will publish its new RE subject framework on 23 October.
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.