The Accord Coalition has said Religious Education should be a nationally determined school subject offering a wide perspective on beliefs and values.
The call came from the education reform body's chair, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, at a seminar in the House of Commons exploring issues around the school curriculum on 13 July 2011.
The meeting was hosted by the Shadow Secretary for Education, the Rt Hon Andy Burnham MP, and was attended by parliamentary staff and members from both Government and opposition benches.
Rabbi Romain recommended that "a flexible RE syllabus should be made part of the National Curriculum to ensure that schools provide RE that teaches about the broad range of beliefs held in society, as a path to good citizenship, ensuring that pupils develop an understanding of those different from themselves."
The Accord Coalition chair said that 'The non-statutory national framework for Religious Education' was widely accepted and popular, and suggested that it could be used as a template for a national RE syllabus.
The document was produced in 2004, with the support of the Government, RE professional organisations and the main religion and belief groups in England. Dr Romain also urged that the place of PSHE in schools should be strengthened.
Under current arrangements for RE, most state funded faith schools can teach whatever they like, including only focusing on the religion of the school, while other schools have to follow a RE syllabus produced by their local authority responsible for education. Some local syllabuses can be overly prescriptive and some are longer than the current National Curriculum itself.
Combined, these arrangements can lead to an inconsistent provision of RE and cause problems for pupils and staff moving schools. Ofsted found in its report 'Transforming religious education', released in June 2010, that there was “very significant variability in the quantity and quality of support for RE provided to schools by local authorities” and urged the Department for Education to review these current local arrangements.
Also speaking at the event was Mark Chater, the Director of Programmes and Education at the Citizenship Foundation, who noted that one quarter of schools were failing in their legal duty to provide RE at Key Stage Four and that 22 per cent of these schools had cited RE not being included in the English Baccalaureate as a reason for this.
Meanwhile, new evidence from the NASUWT was presented indicating that 12 per cent of schools had reported a decline in their planned provision of Citizenship, 11 per cent of a decline their planned provision of PSHE and 10 per cent a decline their planned provision of RE since the English Baccalaureate performance indicator was introduced.
‘The non-statutory national framework for Religious Education’ was produced in 2004 by the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency for the Government, with the support of the main RE professional organisations and most of the country’s main religion and belief groups, including the Church of England, Catholic Education Service, British Humanist Association, Muslim Council of Britain and Board of Deputies of British Jews.
Ofsted found in their report ‘Transforming religious education’, released in June 2010, that there was “very significant variability in the quantity and quality of support for RE provided to schools by local authorities”, that since 2007 the standards of RE provision in secondary schools had fallen and that the Department for Education should review the current local arrangements for Religious Education in England.
The Accord Coalition (http://accordcoalition.org.uk/), launched in September 2008, brings together religious and non-religious organisations campaigning for an end to religious discrimination in school staffing and admissions.
The Coalition also works for a fair and balanced RE curriculum, for all pupils to receive Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education, and for the removal of the requirement for compulsory collective worship. It does not take a position for or against faith schools in principle, seeking to bring people together to argue the case for substantial reform.
Its growing list of members and supporters include the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the Hindu Academy, the British Humanist Association and members from the four largest groupings in parliament.