The fund has been established after the government’s decision to cut training bursaries for RE PGCE students. The bursaries had been worth £9,000 a year, but were cut for this academic year and will not be reinstated for 2014/15.
The new “Common Fund” is being provided by four members of the Association of Church College Trusts – Culham St Gabriels, Keswick Hall Trust, St Luke’s Foundation, and the Jerusalem Trust. A total of £220,000 has been put up for non-salaried secondary RE teachers starting their studies in September.
The cut in bursaries for trainee RE teachers comes despite a
20 per cent shortfall in the target number of RE recruits in 2013/14, according to provisional data from the National College for Teaching and Leadership’s initial teacher training census in November.
The National Association of Teachers of RE, the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC), and the Bishop of Oxford had all presented evidence to education minister, Elizabeth Truss, in a bid to get the bursaries reinstated. However, in a letter last month, the minister confirmed that no funding would be available for the coming academic year.
Dr Mark Chater, director of Culham St Gabriel’s Trust, said: “We remain unconvinced by the government’s arguments for withholding RE bursaries and we interpret the Department for Education’s refusal to provide them as rank discrimination against RE.
“We are offering help because the government refuses to do so. But we cannot help all the students affected. Ultimately responsibility for ensuring the supply of trained specialist teachers rests with the DfE, not the charitable sector.”
John Keast, chair of the REC, added: “It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the refusal to give bursaries to RE trainees while providing them for nearly every other subject is pure discrimination by this government against RE.
“Recruitment of RE trainees did not meet targets last year, and the number of non-specialists teaching RE is already higher than other subjects. It is the government’s role to ensure a sufficient supply of trained and qualified teachers, but it is clear that it is failing to do so in RE. There is no rationale for this refusal.”
Stephanie Rothwell, 21, is doing a PGCE in RE at Liverpool Hope University. She said: “With money worries, studying becomes a practical juggling act, rather than an academic one. I can’t afford to buy any books on teaching practice or child development.”
The Common Fund will consider all applications for grants on the basis of individual needs. Applications can be made via the Keswick Hall website at www.keswickhalltrust.org.uk/grants