Children in more than half of England’s schools are being failed by religious education teaching, an Ofsted report has found.
In primary schools, where the watchdog said religious education was often “squeezed out”, children suffered from poor teaching with teachers not knowing enough about the subject.
Children at secondary level were left with a “superficial and often distorted understanding of religion”, according to the report.
Michael Cladingbowl, Ofsted’s schools director, commented that many children understood Jesus is a “key figure in religion”, but could not say why that was true.
Ofsted’s report, called Religious education: realising the potential, said 60 per cent of the primary schools it visited had “less than good” achievement and teaching in RE.
For secondary schools, only just under half of schools assessed had “good or better” achievement and teaching.
Ofsted said there had been some progress in the subject in the last decade, but called for improvements.
It said primary schools should “raise the status of RE” and secondary schools should make sure that the overall provision for the subject is “challenging and has greater coherence and continuity”.
Mary Bousted, the General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “RE has become a forgotten ‘poor relation'”.
And she said many teachers and schools were already aware of the shortcomings found by the report.
The National Association of Head Teachers’ Gail Larkin said the impact of policy changes over a number of years has been that RE is seen as “of less value than other subjects”.
She added: “I think RE has fallen off the radar”.
Ofsted’s Michael Cladingbowl said that RE is important, but “too often we found religious education lessons being squeezed out by other subjects and children and young people leaving school with little knowledge or understanding of different religions”.
He continued: “This just isn’t good enough when religion and belief are playing such a profound part in today’s world. Pupils deserve much better.”
But Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute, pointed to other reasons for the problems.
He said: “Undoubtedly inadequate time is given to RE, but huge problems are created by trying to teach too many faiths too soon.
“For many pupils RE has become a multi-faith mish-mash. With this approach it is no surprise that Ofsted has found that pupils couldn’t say why Jesus was a key figure in Christianity.”