Religious Education is about “understanding what it means to be human” and the subject should be as important in schools as history or geography, a senior Church of England official has said.
Good RE teaches children about belief and faith as well as how to debate and question, and to have dignity and respect for others according to chief education officer, Reverend Nigel Genders.
His comments come as a report by the Commission on Religious Education called for a new “national entitlement” for the subject that would set out what students should be taught in RE.
In a new blog post, Revd Genders said: “I believe that Religious Education is a core building block in the formation of any individual. Together with science, the arts and humanities, religious education allows us to see inside ourselves, question our purpose and understand the wider world.
“Failure to give this subject dedicated teaching time and resourcing teachers to do this well is a fissure that must be filled. We fail to do this at our collective peril.”
The Church of England believes that a good education should help to provide “wisdom, knowledge and skills”, he said adding: “This is not about indoctrinating people.
“It is about understanding what it means to be human. What it means to have belief, to understand those who have no religious belief, and to gain insights into those of other faiths. Because people of all faiths and none are our neighbours, our teachers, nurses, doctors, trading partners, friends.
“To know ourselves and how to live well with one another, we must learn about the way faith has shaped and continues to shape our world, just as we expect pupils to learn from science or geography how our rivers, mountains and cities are formed. We must learn about each other.”
Revd Genders reiterates the Church’s belief that if a national common entitlement to RE can be agreed, then parents should not be able to withdraw their youngsters from lessons “because they don’t want them to learn about how faith shapes people who hold a different view.”
The Commission, which is made up of academics and education experts among others, warns that RE faces “a perilous future without strategic, urgent intervention”
Exam entries for RE fell this year, and the subject is facing other pressures such as more people identifying as non-religious, and “inconsistency” in the quality and availability of RE in schools, the report says.
It says a national entitlement would state “clearly the aims and purposes of RE and what pupils should experience in the course of their study of the subject”.
Currently, RE is compulsory in all state-funded schools in England, and it is up to schools to decide how to teach it, whether through classes in the subject, or alongside other topics.