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Improving Religious Literacy – All-Party Parliamentary Group on Religious Education

June 5, 2017

APPG 2The APPG invited written submissions from individuals and organisations on the following:

  1. What you understand ‘Religious Literacy’ to mean;
  2. The ways in which Religious Literacy enriches the lives of individuals and positively affects their engagement with their local community, society and public life;
  3. How people learn to be religiously literate through school based education, out-of-school activities, the local community, lifelong learning, media and literature, workplace training schemes and other means;
  4. How the development of Religious Literacy in children could be improved within the school context;
  5. How the development of Religious Literacy in adults could be improved in formalised education settings such as universities, adult education and workplace training schemes;
  6. How the development of Religious Literacy in people of all ages could be improved in settings which are not be considered formal education, such as the local community, out-of-school activities, sports teams, media and literature and other means.

They reiterate the problems facing RE e.g. lack of provision, confusion about aims.

Fortunately, they transcend the ‘Can you name the twelve apostles?’ approach.

Of the report’s twenty four recommendations, the first ten relate to RE. Many of these ten are concerned with ensuring that RE is taught to a consistent standard of excellence by a plentiful army of specialist or properly prepared teachers who have good access to continuing professional development (CPD). In addition, the report calls for training in Religious Literacy to be incorporated into all Secondary Initial Teacher Training and to be available more widely in CPD programmes for all teachers. It also encourages the Minister to re-examine the exclusion of RE from the EBacc, and “for all relevant parties to participate in the ongoing discussions about the legal framework for RE in schools and other major issues.”

The remaining recommendations underline the argument that while RE is an essential resource for promoting Religious Literacy, the responsibility for improving Religious Literacy within society as a whole cannot be left entirely at the RE door, or even in schools themselves. Rather, this responsibility rests on all of us, with the Government needing to take the lead. So within the report there are recommendations for various government departments and civil servants, for the media (e.g. that the new BBC Charter should include a commitment to promote Religious Literacy), for expert editorial scrutiny of policy documents, for encouraging public engagement in inter-communal dialogue, projects and outreach, for channeling funding into community initiatives delivering Religious Literacy, and so on.The title page of the report makes it clear that

the report has no official status; it is simply “A Contribution to the Debate”. Nevertheless, it has been produced and issued by a group of people who do have influence, and who have access to key government ministers and departments. We must hope that the report will add significantly to the case being constantly put to the government that good quality RE in schools, while crucially important for our personal and societal wellbeing, is unsustainable in the present circumstances: something must be done, soon

The APPG on RE has recently come under fire from the RE community for its decision to remove the study of non-religious worldviews from its remit – a move described by the NSS as “regressive, short-sighted and thoroughly regrettable”. The former Chair of the APPG, Stephen Lloyd, has said the parliamentary group is “in danger of turning into a religious sect.”

In its submission to the group’s enquiry the NSS argued that non-religious worldviews, including secular and philosophical critiques are part of, not separate from, religious literacy. The Society also warned that the ‘urgent need’ for improved religious literacy is often overstated by those wishing to elevate the status and role of their religion in wider society.

Stephen Evans, National Secular Society Campaigns Director, commented: “The ambiguity of ‘religious literacy’ and the differing agendas of those promoting it render the term problematic.

APPGQuotations:

“Religious literacy enables willingness and ability to live with religious and cultural tensions and with conflicting beliefs and practices. It supports social cohesion by providing safe spaces where different views can be aired, listened to and engaged with without the pressure to conform to an overall perspective.” Members of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Chester

“One can sum up this entire case by saying that ignorance of religion necessarily means a greater ignorance in general and that this ignorance is highly dangerous for our future.” ResPublica

The APPG notes that religious literacy and RE are not the same thing.

“The school has an essential role in development of religious literacy, just as it has in other forms of literacy. Literacy is about comprehension and communication, and therefore, in the religious sphere, it is important to be able to understand and to be able to communicate ideas.” Head of Theology at an independent school

I believe that the development of Religious Literacy in children and young people could be improved if the inspection of RE was given greater prominence in school inspections, if inspectors were themselves more knowledgeable and rigorous in this area, and if government were to take immediate action to address school failings.” Researcher and educationalist

Non-specialists in primary and secondary RE can be effective if teachers receive appropriate training, are well supported by specialists and have good quality continuing professional development opportunities. In schools where this is not the case, however, non-specialists will find it difficult to develop the deep subject knowledge that is needed to deliver high quality RE.

“Initial teacher education, in which ever context, does not always enable practitioners to develop the confidence they need to deal with the ‘real religious landscape’… Continued

professional development, which might be helpful in enhancing critical religious literacy, is difficult to obtain.” Education Officer,  Network of Buddhist Organisations UK

“I have given nurses training on world faiths to help them in their work and consider it should be a compulsory part of any training for those in social services/national health/police as well as those entering the teaching profession” Consultant and member of the Association of Religious Education Inspectors, Advisors and Consultants

The BBC is now overwhelmingly the largest provider of religious programming out of the public service broadcasters and it makes a unique contribution to the promotion of knowledge about the lived experiences of religious communities in Britain today.

Nonetheless, like other broadcasters the hours of religion and ethics output by the BBC have fallen in the last few years, and Ofcom has identified religious  programming as an “immediate area of concern.

“There should be encouragement to hold and participate in inter faith activities such as inter faith sport and cultural events.” The Inter Faith Network for the UK

“Many of the difficulties identified in the teaching of RE were long-term and structural. The situation is now urgent. Respondents argued that RE in many schools has been marginalised ….Some schools are not fulfilling their statutory requirement ….too often RE lessons are being taught by teachers who are not specialists in the subject and who do not have access to (adequate) continuing professional development….other factors have also had an adverse effect on the quality of the subject, including the exclusion of RE from the English Baccalaureate and a decline in resources for SACREs. This report is not the first to note such findings.”

“We are….entering a defining period for our country, our national life and our national identity. The shape of our religious landscape is changing, as is the place of religion in the public sphere, our private lives and our local communities…… It is more important than ever that….we all have the knowledge and skills required to engage effectively with religion.”

“…the provision of high quality school -based RE, and good teaching and learning about religion beyond the school years in the whole of life context, cannot be allowed to fall off the agenda of the government or Parliament.I will continue….to highlight to government the importance of providing excellent RE for every child….”

The report is online here

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