More than a quarter of English secondary schools are failing to offer religious education, research by the Department for Education (DfE) indicates.
Data gathered by the DfE and obtained under a freedom of information request shows that 26 per cent of secondary schools are not offering RE lessons.
Among academies, which comprise most secondary schools, 34 per cent do not offer RE to 11-13-year-olds and 44 per cent are not offering it to 14-16-year-olds.
By law, RE must be taught in all state-funded schools in England, with the detail of syllabuses agreed at a local level.
The data, gathered by the DfE in 2015, remained unpublished until the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE) obtained it under freedom of information law.
Reacting to the findings, Fiona Moss of NATRE said a dearth of RE lessons means children are “not religiously literate”.
“They don’t have the opportunity to learn about religions and beliefs, to learn what’s important to people or to have the chance to develop their own ideas, beliefs and values.”
Speaking to the BBC Joe Kinnaird, an RE teacher in Essex, stressed that religious education is vital because it provides students with “the chance to explore fundamental questions such as what happens after we die, does God exist, how do we cope with the problem of evil?
“These questions are both philosophical and ethical and the RE classroom is where we can explore these issues.”
A spokesman for the DfE said the Government firmly believes in the importance of RE:
“Good quality RE can develop children’s knowledge of the values and traditions of Britain and other countries, and foster understanding among different faiths and cultures.
“Religious education remains compulsory for all state-funded schools, including academies and free schools, at all key stages and we expect all schools to fulfil their statutory duties”.