Religious education is inadequate

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Religious education is inadequate in a fifth of secondary schools in England, according to a new study by Ofsted, which suggests many teachers were unsure of what they were trying to achieve in the subject.

The survey showed that because the curriculum for RE is determined locally, there is wide variability in the quantity and quality of support provided to schools by local authorities and relevant advisory councils.

There were a number of specific concerns about the teaching of religious belief, and many schools visited did not pay sufficient attention to teaching the core beliefs of Christianity.

Despite these weaknesses, the report says that a major success in the teaching of religious education in both primary and secondary schools is the way it supports the appreciation and understanding of different values by pupils.

In many of the schools visited the provision for RE was no better than satisfactory and compared with the 2007 report, Making sense of religion, the quality of RE in secondary schools was worse overall. The quality of teaching was inadequate in nearly a fifth of the lessons observed and inspectors found that in some secondary schools, recent changes to the overall school curriculum were having a negative impact on RE.

Inspectors visited 94 primary and 89 secondary schools, excluding faith schools, across more than 70 local authorities in England between April 2006 and March 2009.

Inspectors also found that there is not enough high quality training in RE and too few schools are able to access good training opportunities or they are not giving enough priority to RE in their professional development programmes.

Reverend Janina Ainsworth, the Church of England's chief education officer, said: "These findings suggest an urgent need for the government to invest in religious education, both in terms of high-quality resources and attracting and training specialist teachers.

"Given the role that the report suggests RE has in promoting community cohesion, that investment will pay dividends far beyond the education of individual students."

Ofsted chief inspector Christine Gilbert said: "This report highlights two things - first the need for better support and training for teachers and, secondly, the need for a reconsideration of the local arrangements for the oversight of RE, so schools can have a clear framework to use which helps them secure better student achievement in the subject."

Ofsted suggested that local authorities could offer more guidance in the subject and that schools take pupils on trips outside of the classroom, as well as ensuring that RE promotes students spiritual development.

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