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Cross-party MPs and peers say pupils receive ‘tokenistic religious education’

by Kelly Valencia

More than 30 MPs and peers have united in calling upon the Education Secretary to address what is described as the crisis in the UK's Religious Education (RE) standards. They cite a shortage of trained teachers and insufficient funding as key issues.

In a letter to Gillian Keegan, the group of parliamentarians pointed out that while some children receive a comprehensive RE education, others "receive either tokenistic RE or none at all, leaving school without the knowledge and understanding of their own worldviews or those necessary for life in modern Britain", and says young people are consequently, “ill-prepared to play their part in our complex religious and non-religious society, with all the opportunities created by its diversity”.

Signatories include the bishop of Durham, Rt Rev Paul Butler and the former chief secretary to the Treasury and Labour peer, Lord Boateng.

“The lack of funding for RE school projects, combined with a shortage of well trained RE teachers, has resulted in a postcode lottery of RE provision across the UK,” the letter continues. 

“In the absence of consistently high quality RE, our children miss out on an essential opportunity to learn knowledge and skills that will equip them to create tolerant and cohesive workplaces and communities, especially in the context of a diversifying and globalised world.”

Fiona Moss, from the education support service 'RE Today' told Premier the lack of a nationwide curriculum like other humanities subjects like geography or history have, is an issue that needs resolving.

"RE is determined at a local level. There's no national standard that all schools have to adhere to. And as you know, we have lots of different school types in this country now, and one in five - so that's about five hundred secondary schools are reporting that they aren't teaching RE in Year 11."

The letter from the MPs and peers urges the government to provide funding for teacher training bursaries, for those interested in pursuing a career in RE.  They've also requested information on the steps the government is taking to enhance teacher recruitment in the field.

Fiona Moss also highlighted recruitment concerns, citing the fact that targets for RE teacher recruitment have been missed in 9 of the last 10 years.

"This year, there's a target of 655 teachers required in secondary schools, and the absolute most we're going to get is just over 200... If you've not got enough teachers, schools are in a very difficult position."

A Department for Education spokesman told The Telegraph: “Religious education is important in developing young people’s understanding of the values of different faiths which is why it remains compulsory for all pupils at state-funded mainstream schools up to the age of 18.

“It is for individual schools to plan, organise, and deliver their teaching of RE, which are designed locally to reflect the communities they serve.

“We know it is consistently taught in secondary schools and we are continuing to support teachers to develop their confidence in delivering religious education by offering courses.”

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