Schools across the country are failing to adequately teach religious education, The Economist has revealed.
Using data from schools, inspectors’ reports and a survey by RE specialists, the article shows that fewer pupils are studying the subject, which is often being taught poorly.
The piece points to two reports by the schools’ regulator Ofsted, which said that the teaching of Christianity is one of the weakest aspects of RE lessons, and that fewer than 40 per cent of secondary schools achieved a rating of “good” or higher for the subject.
But The Economist noted that for centuries, “the church ran most education in England”, and RE has been compulsory since 1944.
Local religious advisory councils set the syllabus for RE in their areas because the subject is not part of the national curriculum.
The article suggested that fewer pupils may be studying for RE qualifications owing to “increased pressure on the timetable from other subjects”.
The Christian Institute’s Director Colin Hart raised similar concerns: “RE is increasingly the first subject to be sidelined or squeezed out altogether in schools, but what they are failing to realise is that British education is founded on Christianity. To neglect RE is to neglect our roots and our heritage.
“Even when RE does feature in schools, Christianity is often crowded out as teachers try to fit in too many other religions and belief systems.
“There is a very strong educational case for the teaching of Christianity. Without it, pupils can have no understanding of their history, laws, institutions and literature.
“Poor RE teaching should be a matter of grave concern, as it is one of the few remaining areas where pupils are taught to consider religion positively.
“The Government should be doing more to preserve this vital subject in schools.”
The National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE) is urging the Department for Education to pay more attention to the level of provision and quality of RE in all schools.
The organisation ran a survey last year, which revealed that almost 30 per cent of community schools and 40 per cent of academy schools without a religious character “do not meet their legal or contractual requirements for RE” at Key Stage 4.
Mr Hart added: “We share the concerns of groups such as NATRE that RE is being squeezed out of the timetable. But we are also concerned that NATRE failed to promote the teaching of Christianity needed in schools from an educational point of view, preferring instead a heavily multi-faith approach.”
In 2014, close to 1,200 schools had no students put forward for an RE qualification, compared to around 240 in 2010.
NATRE highlighted the lack of specialist RE teachers, describing this as a “real concern” that should be a “priority for policy makers”.
The Economist article noted that it is “getting harder” to find RE teachers: recruitment last year fell 37 per cent below the required number, and the majority of RE teachers have no post A-Level qualification in the subject.