Religious Education in schools ‘lacks sufficient substance’

Ofsted has warned that a number of schools in England are failing to meet the legal requirement to teach Religious Education (RE) at all stages of pupils’ schooling.

In its review, “Deep and meaningful? The religious education subject report”, the school inspectorate found that syllabuses often lacked “sufficient substance” and children remembered “very little” when many religions were covered.

The law requires that the main content of RE in state-funded schools without a specific religious designation must be “in the main Christian”. The Christian Institute’s founder and Director Colin Hart, who died in March, was instrumental in getting this provision onto the statute book.


His Majesty’s Chief Inspector for education Sir Martyn Oliver stated: “A strong RE curriculum is not only important for pupils’ cultural development, it is a requirement of law and too many schools are not meeting that obligation.”

Ofsted conducted the research during 50 of its visits to schools in England between September 2021 and April 2023, and noted that “Christian traditions were the most frequently studied”. However, it reported that in “most” schools, pupils lacked “vital background knowledge” to understand ethical implications such as Christian perspectives on abortion.

“Every agreed syllabus 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.”
Education Act 1996

In addition, the school inspectorate highlighted a “profound misconception among some leaders and teachers that ‘teaching from a neutral stance’ equates to teaching a non-religious worldview. This is simply not the case”.

In conclusion, it urged the Government to update guidance on its statutory expectations for RE and ensure there is “appropriate clarity about what is taught”.


Schools must teach RE at all key stages, but parents have right of withdrawal.

Last year, a survey revealed that almost seven in ten parents believe RE is an important part of their child’s education.

Parents who value the role of RE reported that beliefs taught in school were subsequently discussed at home and helped to shape their child’s values.

The survey of 2,000 parents with school age children was conducted by Savanta ComRes for Culham St Gabriel’s Trust.

Also see:

Parliamentarians: ‘RE provision is a postcode lottery’

Children’s Commissioner: ‘Good RE teaching cornerstone to national life’

Govt blocks attempt to include atheism in RE

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