Religious Education- time for change; Our identity crisis


This started as one blog post. It became too long so I’ve divided it.

In these linked posts I’m going to identify the key reasons why Religious Education needs reform. Whether it be in classroom level, local or national, we need some serious changes to our systems and practices to ensure we’re not always the ‘other’ in the eyes of the Government, school leaders, parents and children. We need to stop being ‘special’.



Name games

There are people who remember RI (religious instruction) which was confessional religion, in particular Christianity and usually focussed on reading the bible or bible stories. Whilst it was abolished in 1988, old habits die hard and the memories of those lessons still remain in many parents’ minds. They think RE is the same. Many a parent evening I have spent explaining that RE is no longer like this. But we still have the stigma and incorrect association that even the press doesn’t understand.




Then there are people who seem to believe that changing the name of a subject will somehow be the miracle cure to change people’s attitude to it. There are threads and threads on RE forums of people discussing new acronyms and everything and anything to avoid the word ‘religion’. It’s become the dirty word in the world of Relgious Education.

It then changes over key stages; in ks1-3 it tends to be RE but at ks4 the qualification is Relgious Studies and then at KS5 whilst the certificate says Relgious Studies the current units can be Philosphy & Ethics so confuses students and even some teachers as to what it really is.

No other subject has this identity crisis. We need to stop focussing on what we call our subject and instead focus on the quality of the experience our students get.

I propose that in the reforms the name is changed. If you study geography in Geography and history in History, it would seem logical you study religion in Religion. At a push Religious Studies. We study religion and that’s all.It’s that simple.

Conflation with other subjects

Leaders and teachers in school continue the identity crisis in mixing RE with other subjects. They often either teach them all in the same lessons or conflate them. In some cases teacher mix them so they don’t have to deal with the complexity of teaching about religion. It becomes a social mishmash that may tenuously include religion instead of an academic study of religion. They don’t do this to other subjects so why allow it with RE?

We’re not PSHE or Citizenship or Philosophy & Ethics, we’re Religious Education.

There is no problem with these subjects but they need to be taught discreetly if we’re to make the case for RE to be included in things such as the Ebacc (which I’m not necessarily proposing).

Conflation with other whole school aims

There have been times that RE has been so desperate for time and space in the school curriculum that we’ve become linked to whole school aims. The things that should be present throughout the whole school in all subjects and lessons, have become associated with RE and in some cases the Head of RE or RE coordinator has taken responsibility for them.

Over the years community cohesion and SMSC seem to be labelled alongside RE or at least some think that school can fulfil their duties in these mainly with RE. We contribute to it but so does English and Maths and Geography. We don’t have the monopoly over spiritual, moral, social and cultural awareness.

In recent years British values and the issues surrounding extremism and the Prevent agenda have often been linked with us. Some RE teachers have jumped on it and again tried to use it to level RE. In this case were in danger of confusing pastoral responsibilities with academic study. If we are concerned about a student’s religious or political view it is not up the RE department to deal with. We may teach about many different views and we tend to be the class in which students feel comfortable to give their views however we cannot and should not take on the responsibility for any further action that may be needed. Our role is to pass it on and in some cases up to the appropriate pastoral colleague. We should not be advising students on their sexuality or political views in RE.

Finally, RE struggles to disassociate itself with collective worship and in faith schools its religious ethos. These are very separate from RE and should not be confused. I believe that these whole school areas should never be the responsibility of the Head of RE or RE coordinator. They are too closely linked and blur boundaries . Whilst we don’t expect the Food Tech teacher to be involved in whole school catering it isn’t the RE departments responsibility to be involved in worship. I don’t even think the RE dept should be involved in creating worship spaces or hosting religious extra curriculum groups. Keep things separate.

We need to stop desperately clutching at the next possible initiative that can potentially raise our profile and work on making RE an academically respected subject. I will consider how this might happen in the next post.

And if these reasons don’t convince you, watch this as evidence that Religious Education needs some serious reform..


3 thoughts on “Religious Education- time for change; Our identity crisis

  1. Pingback: RE in 2020? If we get change right. | lpopeteachrs

  2. Just thought I’d comment as an ex-student. I did the RE GCSE after the 1988 watershed. Five years of that subject – and such a wasted opportunity. We were force-fed Catholic Christianity. I left school not knowing the first things about Islam, Buddhism or Confucianism – – – all things that, as it transpired, would have been fantastically useful for me to know for my future career. It wasn’t until my late 30s that I even discovered that there was such a thing as Christian Orthodoxy (and then only thanks to the computer game Civilization V). As I said, what a wasted, wasted opportunity. Bring on comparative religious studies – religion (for good or bad, better or worse) is a powerful force on Earth and needs to be understood. And yes, study also the history of Atheism and Humanism. There’s plenty to study – and also And then lets remember the victims of the religious. People have in the past been fined, imprisoned, tortured and executed for their profession of a lack of belief. And they still are being fined, imprisoned, tortured and executed today. Teach Atheism and Humanism. The people who have, and who are, suffering for their lack of expression of belief deserve nothing less. And the pupils/students of today and tomorrow deserve a more comprehensive religious education too.

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