Church of England foolishly blames Michael Gove for the parlous state of Religious Education
The education watchdog Ofsted has written, and the Church of England has judged. Witness statements have been adduced from the Religious Education Council for England and the leaders of various teaching unions.
Apparently half of England's schools are failing pupils on Religious Education: 60 per cent are not "realising the subject's full potential". There is widespread "weak teaching, low standards, inept examination, and confusion about the subject's purpose". Mary Bousted of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said: "Any examination of RE should review the role of academies' and free schools' curriculum freedoms in undermining the role of local Standing Advisory Councils for Religious Education, who determine local RE syllabuses."
According to Ofsted, Christian pupils are being "ignored" in a relentless multifaith focus; indeed, the report suggests that other religions are routinely treated more seriously in RE classes: the teaching of Christianity is often "superficial" – Jesus is used simply to explore pupils' personal feelings rather than as a means to extend their understanding of Christian beliefs. In many cases, the study of Jesus is reduced to an unsystematic collection of information about his life, "with limited reference to his theological significance within the faith," the report said.
The shift toward local "flexibility" is having a negative impact, often causing RE to be amalgamated with other lessons. More than 20 per cent of lessons are "inadequate". Rev Janina Ainsworth, the Church of England's Chief Education Officer, said: "Ofsted's findings relating to the teaching of Christianity are of particular concern, suggesting that in too many schools, the faith held by the majority of people in this country is not being properly taught in an in-depth way. Getting to grips with the key teachings of Jesus and other core elements of Christianity are building blocks that will help young people analyse and interpret the society they are growing up in, whether they choose to share that belief or not.
"There is an urgent need for the government to invest in religious education, both in terms of high quality resources and attracting and training specialist teachers.
"Given the role that the report suggests RE has in promoting community cohesion, that investment will pay dividends far beyond the education of individual students."
Ofsted inspectors found that RE was too often taught by non-specialist teachers who had little training. No less a person than the Chief Inspector said: "This report highlights two things, first the need for better support and training for teachers and secondly the need for a reconsideration of the local arrangements for the oversight of RE, so schools can have a clear framework to use which helps them secure better student achievement in the subject."
O hang on.
This is from the Ofsted Report from 2010.
After 13 years of New Labour.
That the subject is "not being properly taught in an in-depth way" was the conclusion of the CofE's Rev Janina Ainsworth from 2010. The call for "better support and training for teachers" came from the then Chief Inspector of Schools, Christine Gilbert.
So quite why the Church of England is seeking to blame Michael Gove for what is manifestly chronic failure is anyone's guess. He's only been in the job for three years, and he has done more to improve standards in education and inject rigour into the exam system than any Education Secretary since Kenneth (Lord) Baker. But the media are faithfully reporting the Church's derision - it's all over the BBC, the Guardian and the Independent.
The Church of England calls on Mr Gove to work with religious leaders to improve the level of teaching. It would do better asking academic theologians to inject rigour into examining and requiring a higher quality of inspirational teaching instead of leaving it to enthused amateurs and LSAs. The PC multifaith mishmash is not fit for purpose: it does not develop an inquiring mind or improve children's understanding of belief and the world in which we live. And neither does it inculcate character virtues or instil social values: rather it teaches vague spirituality and moral relativism.
Instead of academies and free schools being blamed by the unions for sidelining the local SACRE bodies, they should be applauded for ditching superficial overviews and generic summaries of myths and hagiography.
RE is protected as a core curriculum subject, and Michael Gove has conceded that it has suffered as a result of his belief that the protection it had in the curriculum was sufficient. But, unlike Labour, he fervently supports faith-based education and believes in parents' inalienable right as their children's primary educator. Reports of some schools having "abandoned teaching the subject altogether" is simply not credible: they would be breaking the law.
If the provision of RE is "inadequate", the Church of England would do well to focus on its own "aims and purpose" before attacking Michael Gove. If "many pupils leave school with scant subject knowledge and understanding", it is partly because that's how many adults leave church. If "RE teaching often fails to challenge and extend pupils' ability to explore fundamental questions about human life, religion and belief", the same may be said of the Church. There may be a "weak understanding" of RE, but there is also a weak understanding of the Christian faith throughout the nation.
And you can't blame Michael Gove for that.