All about language….

The Commission on RE ( report begins by inviting individuals and organisations to engage with their developing thoughts on RE. I welcome the opportunity for further conversation.

One of the most confident messages of this interim report concerns the importance of RE in an ever changing and complex world. I noted the numerous times the words ‘citizen’ and ‘citizenship’ were used when I first read the report. The case for high quality, effective religious education to equip children and young people to live in our diverse world has never been stronger. This point is reiterated throughout the report and I welcome it!

It is no surprise then that the Commission are recommending that schools are held more robustly to account (p.6) for the provision and quality of RE. This is a bold and important statement, particularly in light of the recent NATRE report concerning lack of provision in Key Stage 4 in 1/4 schools/academies.

The other recommendation that resonates with me is the notion of a National Plan for RE. I am encouraged by the fact that the Commission has looked at good practice in other subjects, in this case music, to seek a way forward for RE. I’d like to see more about recruitment and retention in this National Plan too.

There are however two particular aspects of the report which raise further questions for me.

Firstly, there is an assertion in the report that RE must take account of non-religious worldviews. I fully subscribe to this. However, there is (at least I read it this way, please put me right if I am wrong!) an assumption in the report that saying one is non-religious, means that this particular group of people do not follow a religion. I am not convinced that one can come to this conclusion. This might sound contradictory so let me explain….

I know many people who others might say are religious, but who would personally say they are not. They might use the phrase I have a faith, or I am a follower of xxx, but they do not say they are religious. Many people see their religion as a way of life, as a path they follow. They may actually self confess as non-religious if they are asked because they do not see their faith or belief as a religion even if other people do. To the ‘outsider’, they might appear to be religious (whatever that might mean), but as ‘insiders’ they do not see themselves as such. To assert therefore that an increase in those  who are non-religious means there has been a decrease in adherence to religion may be inaccurate. It might simply mean that people are no longer using the category of religion, or do not identity with this category. This puts into question the category of ‘religion’ itself, which as an advocate of religious literacy as the main purpose of RE puts me in a bit of a quandary…

Secondly, I think a National Statement of Entitlement is a good idea if, as the Commission suggest, it is about a clear purpose and aims (and I would add outcomes). However, the draft statement included in the report does not in my opinion clarify the purpose or aims, and does not have outcomes. It is primarily couched in terms of content. Content is always difficult to agree on, so I am not convinced this is the best place to start.

The Commission suggests, that there is general agreement on the purpose of the subject. I agree. I think there has been a move towards some consensus in understanding the purpose as religious literacy. However, in light of what I have said above, I realise even this term may need an overhaul if we are to consider what we mean by religion!!! Nevertheless, this possible consensus over purpose is not clearly articulated in the draft Statement. So I would welcome further conversation on what a Statement of Entitlement might look like, one that all could subscribe to and which focuses on purpose, aims and outcomes.

Please note: As an independent consultant the views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of any organisations I work for.