Religious Education


  • The law in England and Wales requires that the main content of religious education in non-denominational schools must be devoted to the study of Christianity.
  • The content of religious education is determined at the level of the local education authority. The law requires that syllabuses “shall reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian whilst taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain”.1
  • There must also be a daily act of collective worship in schools (this usually takes place as an assembly) and it must be “wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character”.2
  • Academies and free schools are obliged by their funding agreements to have RE and a daily act of worship on the same basis as schools maintained by a local authority.3
  • Worship is deemed to be of a broadly Christian character “if it reflects the broad traditions of Christian belief without being distinctive of any particular Christian denomination”.4 State schools can positively promote Christianity although they cannot promote any one Christian denomination.
  • There are provisions for pupils from non-Christian faiths to have collective worship and RE according to their own faith.5
  • The law has always provided for a parental right of withdrawal from both collective worship and RE.6 Teachers also have a right of withdrawal.7
  • Educational reforms in 1988 followed concerns that worship was becoming a secular ceremony in too many schools and that RE had become a confusing multi-faith amalgam.
  • In 2014 Education Secretary Nicky Morgan announced plans to change the GSCE RE syllabus for England so that pupils cannot only study one religion. This means there will no longer be a GCSE available for Christianity. At least 25 per cent of the course must be spent on another religion.8
  • In Scotland there are parallel arrangements, which rely on traditional practice. Although there is no daily collective worship required by legislation, schools often appoint chaplains from the Church of Scotland and other denominations, and it is not at all uncommon for a school to hold termly services in the local Parish Church.

Biblical arguments

According to the Bible, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). True education must start with an acknowledgement of the one true God. This applies across the curriculum, not just in RE.

Jesus Christ commanded Christians to “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15). In the past Christians have seen education as part of fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission.

Secularism is not neutral. It is hostile to Christian belief and cannot provide a neutral basis for education. In 1944 when the Education Act was passed state ‘county’ schools were assumed to be non-denominational but Christian. This assumption was widely accepted until the late 1970s.

The Bible provides God-given moral absolutes for personal and social conduct. All children should be given the opportunity to examine the teaching of the Bible.

Theological pluralism

Teaching approaches in religious education are very important. Teaching which denies the exclusive truth claims of Christ is of particular concern. Poor RE teaching can deny the integrity of all faiths. To teach that all religions are the same is a faith position which must be vigorously challenged.

This position is sometimes called theological pluralism. John Hick, one of its leading advocates, argues that all religions are cultural expressions of the same reality.9

Jesus made exclusive claims, including, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”.10

The other faiths also make exclusive claims. Christians must fight against theological pluralism, which denies the mutually exclusive truth claims of Christianity and the non-Christian faiths.

Practical involvement

Many schools invite local churches to help them fulfil their RE and collective worship obligations. Christian teachers can also play a full role. Given the decline in church attendance amongst the young, an RE lesson or school assembly might be the only opportunity a young person will ever get to hear the gospel.

Key points

  • The legal requirements for RE and collective worship in state schools are quite modest: they provide the opportunity for young people to examine the truth claims of the Christian faith. Given our Christian heritage and the fact that Christianity is a major world religion, it makes sound educational sense for young people to study Christianity. (See Christian Freedoms and Heritage.)
  • Because of poor or inadequate religious education there is much ignorance amongst young people on the basic facts of the Christian faith. In 2010, a survey of 1000 six to ten-year-olds found that only 37 per cent knew that Jesus died on Good Friday, and 53 per cent were unaware that Easter had any religious significance.11
  • Christianity is the major world religion which transcends all barriers of culture and race. It has a major role to play in the elimination of racism and cultural intolerance.
  1. 1Education Act 1996, Section 375 (3)
  2. 2School Standards and Framework Act 1998, Schedule 20 (3)(2)
  3. 3Mainstream academy and free school: single funding agreement, Department for Education, December 2014, para 2.48
  4. 4School Standards and Framework Act 1998, Schedule 20 (3)(3)
  5. 5School Standards and Framework Act 1998, Section 71
  6. 6School Standards and Framework Act 1998, Section 71 (1)
  7. 7School Standards and Framework Act 1998, Section 59
  8. 8Department for Education Press Release, New academically rigorous RS GCSE backed by faith groups, 7 November 2014; Reformed GCSE and A level subject content: Government consultation response, Department for Education, February 2015, pages 20-24
  9. 9Hick, J, Religious Pluralism and Islam, Lecture delivered to the Institute for Islamic Culture and Thought, Tehran, February 2005
  10. 10John 14:6
  11. 11SWNS online, 30 March 2010, see as at 6 May 2015