Bishop of Chichester calls for strengthening of Religious Education to improve religious literacy of teachers and students

On 17th December 2018 Lord Alderdice led a short debate on the question, “To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report by the Commission on Religious Education Religion and Worldviews: the way forward, published in September; and whether they intend to publish any response”. The Bishop of Chichester, Rt Revd Martin Warner, spoke in the debate:

The Lord Bishop of Chichester: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, for securing this debate and for placing our understanding of how to be in the world as the foundation for this report, Religion and Worldviews: the way forward. A national plan for RE. The report has been widely welcomed by many who are committed to the best possible teaching of RE, including the Church of England’s education office. We are grateful to the very reverend John Hall for leading the commission that has produced the report.

There may be many causes for the decline in the delivery of good-quality teaching in RE, but one of them will undoubtedly be the exclusion of the subject from the EBacc and a consequent decline in the number of qualified RE teachers in schools. This might well be an unintended consequence, but it is worth noting that for the same reason there is also a serious concern about the lack of music teachers and teaching posts. The EBacc is seen as a disincentive. On both subjects, I believe that the quality of the education we give to pupils in our state-funded schools is seriously diminished. I join others in welcoming the recent comments by Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman, who in a recent speech at the SCHOOLS NorthEast summit in Newcastle, asserted the importance of quality education in the broadest terms,

“encouraging the take-up of core EBacc subjects such as the humanities and languages at GCSE, alongside the arts and creative subjects”.

I hope the Minister presses the point with Ofsted so that a school could not be judged outstanding if it were not able to demonstrate excellence in religion and worldviews—RE, if you wish to call it that—and the arts, especially music.​

It is the Church of England’s hope that this CRE report will contribute to a significant improvement in the delivery of an education in which the skills of religious literacy are a natural and valued element. The urgent need for this has been well stated by the Religious Education Council of England and Wales’s chief executive, Rudolf Eliott Lockhart, when he observes:

“More than ever, as our society becomes multicultural and religious extremism dominates the news agenda, we need young people to be religiously literate”.

In the 11 recommendations of the report, the language of national entitlement underlines the seriousness of the matter. I believe this is something that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has also touched on as a right. The entitlement is outlined in pages 12 and 13 of the report. The recruitment and training of teachers in this subject is a vital element in the delivery of excellence in this important area. The call for teachers of secure subject knowledge and for promoting the value of scholarship is greatly welcome.

In today’s pluralist society, we need teachers who will challenge cultural and religious stereotypes from a position of understanding and respect. In the case of religions that have an inherited and shared cultic practice, an identifiable canon of foundational texts and an organised pattern of leadership, it will be important to ensure that secure subject knowledge also includes the ability to explore a faith system’s world view through the practices that define and sustain it. In this respect, I hope that any national body that is responsible for developing coherent programmes of study would be required to consult religious and cultural organisations, particularly those whose practice, texts and organisation are the material for study in our schools.

Finally, recommendation 11 opens some serious questions about the withdrawal of pupils from this vital area of education. What plans does the Department for Education have to provide additional legal advice to governors and teachers about what should constitute legitimate grounds for the right to withdraw a pupil from the best that can be offered in the study of religion and world views? How will the Department for Education protect teachers from complaint and prosecution on the basis of ideological or racist views about this subject?

The Secretary of State has stated in his response to the report that his priority is to provide stability to schools, yet I fear that without action to support and incentivise the teaching of humanities, arts and RE by well-trained teachers the inevitable outcome will be not stability but narrowness and decline.


Lord Watson of Invergowrie (Lab)…Currently, legislation and funding agreements require all state-funded schools to deliver religious education. Yet it is clearly not a subject that the Government hold as being of much importance, having been further sidelined by the introduction of the EBacc. Further evidence was provided earlier this year when the Schools Minister, Mr Gibb, stated in a reply to a Written Question:

“Ofsted does not routinely compliance check whether schools, Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education … or Agreed Syllabus Conferences … are meeting all of their statutory requirements”.

Why would that not be a matter of routine importance to Ofsted? As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester said, if the requirements relating to the teaching of religious education are statutory, then by definition they must be complied with. That echoes the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, that 33% of schools do not offer religious education at key stage 4.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Lord Agnew of Oulton) (Con):…The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester raises the importance of Ofsted assessments of religious education, and I agree with him that this is an important ​part of an inspection of a school. I will take back his suggestion that to achieve an outstanding grade, schools should provide good-quality religious education…