UK faces a religious education crisis

UK faces a religious education crisis

Ed Pawson, Chairman of the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE) believes that RE ‘has never been under greater threat’ and that the Government must take urgent action to address a shortage of RE teachers.

According to the BBC, Pawson – who is also RE Associate Adviser for an outfit called Babcock LDP, which promotes “religious education and collective worship” – is to tell NATRE’s inaugural annual conference that developing young people’s “religious literacy” would help to make them less vulnerable to radicalisation. He believes:

Good religious education has never been more needed.

In his speech to NATRE’, Pawson is expected to ask “what hope” there is for students to receive a strong religious education when so few of those teaching the subject are qualified to do so.

Pawson will cite official figures that show 54 percent of secondary RE teachers have no post-A-level qualification in a related subject.

This compares very unfavourably with history, where a mere 27 percent of teachers lack post-A-level expertise.

Primary pupils are even worse served, he will add, with a NATRE survey of teachers in 2013 suggesting half of almost 700 who responded had received only three hours’ training in the subject. A quarter had no training at all.

We must work hard to attract bright young graduates to join the RE profession, bringing with them energy, creativity and a vision for a more respectful, understanding and diverse society – but let’s be honest about some of the facts: as a subject, we need more resources.


Pawson is expected to mention Ofsted’s 2013 report on RE, which said more than half of schools were failing pupils on religious education and raised “significant concerns” about the training deficit.

This report found low standards, weak teaching, a confused sense of the purpose of religious education, training gaps and weaknesses in the way the subject was examined.

A report by MPs from the same year said many primary subject leaders in RE lacked sufficient experience and expertise to fulfil the role.

Pawson will claim that RE teachers will face greater challenges when proposed changes to GCSE subject specifications for RE in 2016 will require the study of two religions.

There is still a mountain to climb to bring RE teachers up to the level of qualification and skill that is required to make it a vibrant, exciting and academically rigorous subject in all our schools.

The government said RE was a “vital part” of its plan to prepare young people for life in modern Britain by helping children to develop an understanding of the different faiths and cultures which make up our society.

A Department for Education spokesman said:

That is why it remains compulsory at all key stages, including at primary.

From September top graduates, “including those with the potential to be exceptional RE teachers”, could apply for a training bursary “worth £9,000 for a first-class degree and £4,000 for a 2:1”, he added.

Hat tip: Marcus Robinson & BarrieJohn

21 responses to “UK faces a religious education crisis”

  1. barriejohn says:

    Why “Religious” Education? The standard of RE teaching in Britain has always been appalling, and has always been wide open to exploitation by those with no other desire than to enlist recruits to their own particular brand of Christianity. Just take a look at this website which I only stumbled across yesterday:

    It is a privilege in our country to go into the schools to teach Christianity. Some countries keep the state and religion separate. We don’t know how long we will be allowed to go into the schools the way we are at present.

    We believe that we must go where the young people are to tell them the truth about the Word of God.

    They claim that OFSTED praises their work, and that wouldn’t surprise me one little bit. Headteachers can’t get people to teach RE, so are glad to avail themselves of any help that is afforded them in this regard, and evangelists and other evangelicals are straining at the leash to get their hands on impressionable young people any way that they possibly can, especially with church and Sunday School attendance plumetting in many places. I taught science and maths, but jumped at the chance to take RE for no other reason than this, and our headteacher was as pleased as punch to be able plug the gap. He used to let me take assemblies as well, which relieved him of another onerous responsibility. I thought we had moved on from those days, but apparently not!

  2. Caute says:

    Whether the assertion that ‘RE has never been under greater threat’ is a good or a bad thing is wholly dependent upon ones vested interests. Those who have evangelising prosyletysing agenda and those who have made careers out of religion either through ordination or politics will have a very different opinion from those of most sensible rational people. Religion is divisive as any fool can see from the daily news burden of sectarian conflict or when taking a hike down the back streets of city ghettos. My view…get religion out of schools …totally. Get rid of faith schools … …totally. Replace RE with classes teaching good citizenship, the golden rule, tolerance, respect, healthy living for mind and body, rationalism, truth .. … ….one could call this humanism. All schools to have strict dress rules and all pupils have to do the same lessons. Get rid of the governor system which is the loop hole through which the dangerously pious exert their dogmatic views. My local primary school of 50 pupils has its classroom walls plastered with religious propaganda. Kids dont need all that stuff. They just need good basic primary education… not sensitising to the ways of mythical confected fairytales.

  3. barriejohn says:

    Caute: Well said.

    Precious Seed is a Brethren magazine with which I am very familiar, and if you search the site for “School Assemblies”, etc, you will come across many reports like this (Tenby, 2014):

    This Easter holiday we held our first Holiday Bible Club. Known as the FROG CLUB, (Fully Rely On God) we were able to use the basement of Deer Park Baptist Church for four mornings leading up to Good Friday. Although we did not have huge numbers attending, despite having distributed 500 leaflets to the Primary Schools in Tenby, we did have about 10 children there every day, and we have been told that is a good response from Tenby families! Ian goes into Tenby Junior School to take school assemblies twice a month, as well as doing Welsh reading with the children, and he is starting a weekly Bible Club in this school during Thursday lunchtimes.

    The Brethren have many full-time evangelists operating in this way, and make no mistake, they are teaching children fundamentalist nonsense regarding Creation, Heaven, Hell, and so forth.

  4. andym says:

    I can see a need for children to be taught the basics of what major religions believe,as they are part of the world they will enter. But what is being called for here is nearer to the old term for the subject- Religious Instruction – hiding behind an educational front.

  5. Angela_K says:

    I can’t see the monotheist schools adhering to any rules that demand teaching another religion or about other beliefs/non-belief in a comparative context. We have already seen parts of the curriculum ignored and exam questions redacted at schools with a hard-line religious ethos. As we have all said before, get religious indoctrination out of schools. Pupils would be better served if the religious lessons were scrapped and more of the three sciences taught because life is too short to waste on discussing/preparing for a non-existent after-life

  6. Broga says:

    I don’t suppose the R.E. teachers will allow the children to be aware of the challenges to what they are being taught. At my grammar school the Divinity teacher (a local vicar) was asked by a boy if the vicar had read “Why I am not a Christian” by Bertrand Russell.

    The vicar said, “I have not read that book as its title is quite enough. And I strongly advise all of you to have nothing to do with it.” Of course after that we couldn’t get our hands on it quickly enough. It is fairly mild compared to what is available now. However, the vicar demonstrated a prime purpose of R.E. and that is to block off enquiring young minds from enquiring.

  7. Barry Duke says:

    I posted this item on the Freethinker’s Facebook site (, and thought you’d be interested this response from teacher Richard Fisher:

    I am a geography teacher, over 10 years in schools. I have never seen an RE department that has truly engaging lessons, interesting topics or any deeper consideration. The odd good teacher perhaps but lots of crap, often the worst department in the schools BUT that is hidden by the comparatively good result at GCSE – due to the piss easy nature of the exam.

    RE is mostly ‘this lot think this’, ‘what would a person of x religion say about Y’, ‘who was X prophet’? ‘What is x festival to celebrate and how and when do they do it?’ Often there is an overriding philosophy/implicit concept that morals come from religion and that religion is all good.

    Lots of rote learning and ALWAYS on the lines of the most wishy-washy mega liberal interpretation/consensus. No critical interpretation of text, no analysis of contradictions.

    Very boring and not on an academic par with other GCSEs where bias is considered, text analysed, critical thinking and arguments evaluated. Waste of time in its current form.

    RE is the only subject where there is a little club for teachers in each area where they make a scheme of work that fits with their local population rather than the country or world as a whole. This results in areas perhaps with lots of Muslims and west African Christians having a focus that does not reflect wider society.

    About 50% of uk population are non-religious. RE needs to reflect that …

    Well, said, that man!

  8. Caute says:

    Oh…and I forgot to add that if the parents don’t like their kids going to faithless schools, not being allowed to wear hijabs, having to attend mixed lessons, learning real factual import factual stuff like evolution, seeing sausages on the lunch menu, no chance of observance of religious events……then I suggest they go live in a country where religious bigotry is a way of life and do without all the benefits protection, security,handouts and healthcare that are handed to them on a plate in the uk and other civilised countries. To those who want their kids to go to an exclusively islamic school then I invite you to leave now…. feel free and dont mind me. I will not be offended if this country is not good enough for you. In fact if you want I will come to the airport, carry your bags to check in and wave you goodbye. Same for those with talmudic and catholic tastes. However, if you grow up and fit in, work hard, let the state educate your kids to be good secular citizens, contribute to society with a positive inclusive smile on your face then you are very welcome and I will be happy to share time with you over a cup of tea or a beer. I don’t want this great country turned into litter filled bombed out filthy rat infested victim ridden sand pit.

  9. Broga says:

    @Barry Duke: Classy summary of R.E. by Richard Fisher. He nailed its defects. Of course, if the defects are removed the content is exposed as vacuous. Seems as if there are now sad little self serving groups of R.E. teachers clinging to their tattered hopes of academic acknowledgement.

  10. Rob Andrews says:

    Maybe that would not be so bad after all. I mean will they teach the dangers of Islam, which is gradually encroaching on western europe. But somehow i think they just want to propagate protestant xtianity.

    And like other posters say they have to make a living someway. They only live by donations.

    “The Catholic Church is the biggest scam in history, 2000 years in the same location. But they don’t make or sell anything and they’re rich”-Mark Twain

  11. barriejohn says:

    And how about this:

    They’re determined to get their way somehow or other.

  12. Newspaniard says:

    Who the hell pays the salary of Ed Pawson? Did he form the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE)? Is it government subsidized or is is an offshoot of some self-appointed evangelizing organization? Would any self-respecting parent trust their children to the extra-curricular activities which are suggested? So many questions so much BS.

  13. barriejohn says:

    There’s an Ed Pawson teaching RE at The King’s School, Ottery St Mary. Could that be him?

    The school is an “academy”, naturally!

  14. barriejohn says:

    Members of NATRE and its executive appear to be serving teachers:

  15. AgentCormac says:


    Loved that last link!

    As for ‘The government said RE was a “vital part” of its plan to prepare young people for life in modern Britain by helping children to develop an understanding of the different faiths and cultures which make up our society.’ If only our schools were teaching young people that the claptrap which is religious ideology is by far and away the biggest hindrance to our multi-culural society actually functioning properly, then perhaps we might start getting somewhere.

  16. AgentCormac says:

    BTW, is it just me, or doesn’t Ed Pawson, with his glimmering smile, healthy glow and completely glazed eyeballs,look like some pin-up for every ‘happy-clappy’ xtian wanker you’ve ever seen? Why do they always have that ‘I’m so happy look’ about them when in reality most are them are the most unhappy people on the planet?

  17. Broga says:

    @AgentCormac: That smile: starts at the lips and ends at the lips. The bright eyed and bushy tail look is the mask that hides the emptiness within. It’s a job. They are not daft. They know their beliefs have no basis except myths from 2,000 years ago. So many professional believers are stressed at having to go through the motions of believing the incredible.

  18. Robster says:

    There’s an easy answer for the RE teacher crisis threatening the British education system. Pop down to the local Theological college and collect up a gaggle of Doctors of Theology. They churn them out, for no apparent reason by the thousand (it seems) so there’s probably lots around with nothing to do.
    People afflicted with religiousness love being called “doctor” as it gives them a veneer of academic credibility and they love nothing more than that. If there are no free ones wandering the streets of the UK, try the US, there seems to be an oversupply there. Many are not yet on TV (or YouTube) so they could be looking for something to do, a trip to Blighty might just be the trick. Look good on a CV and the schools would have lots of impressive sounding but ultimately useless “doctors” on the roster.

  19. 1859 says:

    I wish I’d had Stephen Fry as my RE teacher….

    There is not one religion that makes any fucking sense! Every one is all about a set of creation fairy tales that pretend life goes on and on after death. And they are teaching this nonsense to kids! Primary kids! Get all religion out of all schools.