RE 'not taught at 26% of schools'
Around one in four schools are failing to meet their legal duty to give GCSE students religious education lessons, according to a survey.
It claims that many secondaries are cutting back on specialist RE teachers, leaving pupils being taught by staff who are not experts in the subject.
RE has been "edged out" of schools by government reforms and students are losing out, said the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (Natre) which conducted the poll.
Overall, 26% of schools are not meeting their legal obligation to teach RE to pupils taking their GCSEs. This is down slightly from 33% who said the same last year, according to the findings, based on a survey of teachers at 580 schools.
One in eight say their secondary schools are not meeting the requirement to teach 11 to 14-year-olds the subject, the same proportion as last year.
RE is a compulsory subject in all English schools.
Among state community schools - those under local council control - a third are not meeting the duty for GCSE pupils. In academies without a religious ethos, this figure was 35% and in grammars it was 29%, the poll found.
A fifth of community schools and academies without a religious character have seen a cut in their numbers of specialist RE staff, Natre's survey concludes, while 14% of faith schools have seen a reduction.
"The number of RE subject specialist staff continues to fall in all types of school," the Natre report says.
"The first indication that teachers of RE were beginning to be made redundant, or transferred to teach other subject areas, was reported in Natre's first survey after the introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc)."
The EBacc is a measure recognising pupils who score at least a C at GCSE in English, maths, science, a foreign language and history or geography.
The exclusion of RE from the EBacc created a storm of protest, with campaigners arguing the move would lead to the subject being marginalised in schools.
Around 8% of schools have cut the amount of time allocated to RE lessons this year for 11 to 14-year-olds, the survey suggests, and in a third of secondaries around one in five RE classes are taken by teachers with gaps in their timetable, rather than by experts in the subject.
Natre chair Ed Pawson said: "The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, has admitted that RE has been an 'unintended casualty of reforms' and this new data proves his point. The EBacc has edged RE out of the school curriculum and pupils are losing out on valuable education about the world's faith and belief systems.
"Good RE is a vital part of a pupil's whole education. Taught by a specialist, RE reaches beyond class teaching and helps develop skills young people can take into the wider world. Yet this research shows that schools are squeezing RE into less time and unfilled timetable slots, often with teachers lacking in adequate training or support. This trend has to be reversed now."
At a Church of England seminar in July, Reverend John Pritchard, the Bishop of Oxford, told Mr Gove that the move to leave RE out of the EBacc, alongside other reforms such as halving specialist RE teacher training places and a lack of bursaries for trainees, have "been quite demoralising" for the RE community.
Mr Gove said that because RE has a "special status" in the curriculum, he believed it was protected.
"I think if I'm being honest, over the last three years I've thought 'well that's protection enough' and therefore I've concentrated on other areas. And, therefore, I think RE has suffered as a result of my belief that the protection that it had in the curriculum was sufficient, and I don't think that I've done enough," he said.
:: Natre's online research was conducted over six weeks in June and July, with replies received from 580 schools in England.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "Our new curriculum ensures RE will remain a compulsory subject for every pupil until they leave school."