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Children's Commissioner for England calls for better support for RE in schools

by Kelly Valencia

Better support for religious education in schools is needed, according to the Children's Commissioner for England.

Dame Rachel de Souza made the remarks as she delivered the keynote speech at the 50th anniversary of the Religious Education Council (REC) on Wednesday.

De Souza stressed the importance of the subject, saying RE is "the one place in the curriculum" where young people can discuss their "philosophical, religious, and moral" questions.

The organisation supports and promotes religious education in schools and colleges across England and Wales.

She said: "Children have told me that they want school to be the place where they can learn about life skills, relationships, and how to set themselves up for the future. The RE curriculum is the one place that children can learn these important things.

"It provides children with a chance to understand more about the world, other cultures and religions, and also about themselves. RE helps us understand the different faiths and communities which make up modern Britain, and, crucially, RE is a place where these young people can discuss important and exciting philosophical, religious and moral conundrums in safe spaces."

Every year, about 250,000 students study RE GCSE. However, a recent review by the National Association of Teachers of RE showed that around 500 secondary schools don't teach RE in Year 11.

Speaking to Premier, chair of the REC, Sarah Lane Cawte, said the shortage of qualified teachers is one of their biggest challenges.

"There are only 49 per cent of teachers in our secondary schools who teach RE who spend most of their time teaching religious education. Fifty-one per cent of them teach other subjects for the majority of their time.

"We need to change that. We need people who are excited about the subject, and who are equipped to help young people to get excited too."

Cawte also acknowledged the evolution of the subject from its Christian roots to representing the different faiths co-existing in modern Britain.

"We've got children and young people in our schools from all sorts of worldviews. Some of them are adherence of particular religious faiths, others actually have very strong personal worldviews. It's really important that all of those young people have the opportunity to engage critically with other ideas and to really form their own ideas."

An RE teacher recruitment campaign, Beyond the Ordinary, is underway to attract the next generation of RE teachers. It has called for applicants from various backgrounds, stressing the ability of the subject to help young people answer the big questions in life.

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