Commission proposes new subject of religion and worldviews to replace outdated RE

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: iStock

Religious education should be adapted to reflect social changes so that the subject better prepares young people for “living in an increasingly diverse world”.
The subject’s name should also be changed to “religion and worldviews”.

The recommendations have been made by the Commission of Religious Education, which published its final report on Sunday (September 9) making 10 recommendations for reforming RE.

Its key recommendation is the creation of a National Entitlement for all pupils in all schools specifying nine “broad entitlements” for what they should be taught, including the concepts of “religion” and “worldviews” and the roles of religious and non-religious worldviews.

Programmes of study would draw on the major world religions as well as non-religious views such as Humanism, secularism, atheism and agnosticism.

Changes to the legislation governing Standing Advisory Councils on RE (SACREs), which currently support RE locally, are also proposed. The report suggests the creation of Local Advisory Networks on Religion and Worldviews with an enhanced role, which would include supporting the implementation of the National Entitlement.

The Commission on Religious Education was established in 2016 by the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC) and its members include school leaders, academics and others.

Its chair is Rev Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster and former chief education officer for the Church of England. The aim of the commission has been to review the legal, education, and policy frameworks for religious education.

Among the nine entitlements proposed by the commission, it says that pupils “must be taught about key concepts including ‘religion’, ‘secularity’, ‘spirituality’ and ‘worldview’, and that worldviews are complex, diverse and plural”.

It also states that pupils must be taught “the different roles played by worldviews in the lives of individuals and societies, including their influence on moral behaviour and social norms”.

The commission’s recommendations follow a research report published by the REC and the National Association of Teachers of RE in September 2017, which found the more than one in four (28 per cent) state secondary schools are struggling to meet their legal obligation to teach pupils about major religions and systems of belief (A quarter of schools are snubbing RE duty, SecEd:

Dr Hall said: “Life in Britain, indeed life in our world, is very different from life in the 1970s when RE began to include other world religions and beliefs besides Christianity.

“Young people today are growing up in a wonderfully diverse society. Day-by-day they can encounter different cultures and worldviews, if not personally at least through the media. So it has never been more important for people to understand the main traditions of faith and belief and the wide variety of worldviews. In employment and in everyday life, young people need to achieve fluency in relating to people with different traditions and outlooks from their own.

“At present, the quality of RE in too many schools is inadequate in enabling pupils to engage deeply with the worldviews they will encounter. Many structural changes in education in the past 20 years have unintentionally undermined the integrity of RE in the school curriculum.

“The commission is proposing a fresh start for the subject with a vision for the teaching of religion and worldviews in every school.”

The report has been welcomed by the National Association of Head Teachers. Its general secretary Paul Whiteman said: “A change of name to ‘religion and worldviews’ shows that this is a broader subject than the study of religion – it is about the different ways that people see and make sense of the world.”

The National Education Union added: “Whatever the subject is called, we believe it needs a coherent curriculum, commitment to ensure it is taught within a broad and balanced curriculum in all schools, and teachers with the knowledge and skills to teach the subject critically and sensitively.”

  • Religion and Worldviews: The Way Forward, Commission on Religious Education, September 2018:

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