The Chair of the Commission on Religious Education, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, has written to the Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds MP. This follows Damian Hinds’ response of 6th December to the Commission on RE’s Final Report.
The Secretary of State’s letter of 6th December can be read here.
The letter was written following the debate in the House of Lords on the Final Report that took place on the 17th December .
The full text of the Very Reverend Dr John Hall’s letter, dated 20th December, is available below.
Thank you for your letter of 6th December responding to the Commission on Religious Education’s final report “Religion and Worldviews: the way forward”.
While I am disappointed with your conclusion that now is not the time to begin the reforms of Religious Education (RE) that the Commission recommended, I take seriously your commitment not to legislate on the matter in this Parliament. Nonetheless, over the course of the two years of our work, it was clear to me and my fellow commissioners that the situation for RE was extremely precarious and that without positive action from the Government the subject risked collapse in many schools. The current situation is in our view not sustainable and we would regard refusal to act at all as an abdication of responsibility. Our recommendations are realistic and pragmatic, and would guarantee a secure future for the subject ensuring that all pupils in all schools receive the high quality education in RE to which they should be entitled.
We worked hard to ensure that our recommendations had broad support. Our recommendations are backed by a range of organisations including, but not limited to, the Church of England, the RE Council of England and Wales (REC), which brings together 63 different member organisations from across faith and belief communities and organisations of RE professionals, the National Association of Teachers of RE, the National Education Union, the National Association of Head Teachers, Humanists UK, and TRS-UK, the professional association for University Departments of Theology and Religious Studies. There have, of course, been some dissenting voices but you should be under no illusion that the majority of stakeholders in RE have called strongly for the implementation of our recommendations. This level of consensus around RE is very rare, so it is highly disappointing that you have provisionally rejected the opportunity that it presents.
I am anxious to correct a misunderstanding apparent in your letter. You state that we were recommending ‘making statutory the inclusion of “worldviews”’. We have been quite clear. The law already makes possible the inclusion in RE of a range of worldviews, both religious and non-religious. We have not called for legal change so that non-religious worldviews can be ‘added’ to the subject. Nor would our recommendations risk ‘diluting’ coverage of religions. What we have presented is a new vision for the subject, offering pupils an academically rigorous study of how all human beings make sense of their lives using religious and non-religious worldviews. Moreover, the providers of Church and other faith-based schools should be clear that our recommendations have been carefully framed in order to maintain their ability to draw up their own curriculum for RE and to ensure that their pupils receive the RE most suited to their schools.
I share your concern not to add to the workload of teachers. We listened closely to many teachers in the course of our work and heard their loud calls for action. We have spoken to the teaching unions and have found them to be very supportive of our recommendations. It is very clear that they do not present a bar to stop you from acting in this policy area.
You will have seen the response from the REC on the 15th December. In particular I draw your attention to their warning that ‘RE is in a critical condition: increasing numbers of schools are failing to teach the subject. 33% of schools offered no RE at all at Key Stage 4 in 2016, up from 22% the year before. These are schools that appear to be in breach of the law: it is a real cause for concern that the Government is unwilling to act to address the significant and growing problems.’ The figures that the REC cited are calculated from data collected by your own Department. I note that your colleague Lord Agnew of Oulton said in a debate in the House of Lords on the 17th December that ‘RE is not optional. Schools not teaching it are acting unlawfully or are in breach of their academy funding agreements. We will take action if this is found to be the case.’
Finally, I recognise your desire not to legislate in this Parliament. We have outlined a phased programme for implementing our recommendations which would not require legislating in this Parliament. We deliberately framed our recommendations in such a way that HMG could take steps to protect the vital subject of RE immediately whilst retaining the current legislative framework for the subject until a future Parliament.
I look forward to an opportunity to discuss with you the steps that can be taken to ensure high quality RE for all school children. And I would welcome the opportunity to discuss with you, with representatives from the REC, what might be done in the meantime to take action regarding the 33% of schools reporting that they offer no RE at all at Key Stage 4.
The Very Reverend Dr John Hall
Dean of Westminster
Sometime Chairman, Commission on Religious Education