School inspectors have confirmed that the English Baccalaureate has “led to a decline in RE provision” in some schools.
An Ofsted report based on visits to 185 schools between 2009 and 2012 found that of those visited since the introduction of the EBacc, around half had changed curriculum provision for RE in response to education policy.
This includes the introduction of the EBacc league table measure, which recognises geography and history but not RE, as well as the decision to remove short course GCSEs from headline measures of school performance.
The report states: “It is too early to come to a definitive conclusion about (the) impact on GCSE entries ... however, the overall numbers entered for a GCSE qualification in religious studies in England fell from around 427,000 in 2012 to 390,000 in 2013.
“There is evidence, however, of a more significant reduction in the provision for RE in some schools. The headteachers of these schools cited decisions about the EBacc and short-course GCSEs as reasons for the changes they were making.”
The report cites one school where students studying EBacc subjects were no longer taught any RE and staffing in RE had been reduced. Another school had reduced key stage 4 provision by two-thirds, while a third had dropped visits to places of worship in years 8 and 9 because students would no longer be taking RE at GCSE level.
Inspectors have now called on the Department for Education to review the current statutory arrangements for RE “to ensure these keep pace with wider changes to education policy”. It should also “ensure that the provision for RE is monitored more closely, particularly in secondary schools”.
Inspectors also highlight a lack of access to high-quality CPD for teachers, with training only having a positive impact on provision in a third of the schools visited.
They said many schools reported that support from their local authority and local Standing Advisory Councils on RE (SACREs) had diminished. The academies programme has not helped the situation, the report adds, as more schools step outside of local authority control and therefore do not have to follow the locally agreed RE syllabus. It urges local authorities to ensure “sufficient resources” are available for SACREs to carry out their work.
The Ofsted report is the latest study to raise questions over the EBacc’s impact on RE. In March, an investigation by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on RE found that pupils are frequently being taught by teachers who have no qualifications in the subject. It claimed that the teaching of different beliefs and values was often given to teaching assistants, who receive little support or training.
Last autumn, research by the National Association of Teachers of RE involving 625 schools found a third reported that the legal requirement for RE was not being met in key stage 4. Nearly a quarter reported a reduction in the number of specialist staff employed to teach RE, with 82 per cent of these citing the EBacc as the main reason.
The Ofsted report is also critical of schools, saying that only around half of the 91 secondaries visited were good or better when it came to teaching and achievement.
The report states: “Most of the GCSE teaching seen failed to secure the core aim of the examination specifications: that is, to enable pupils ‘to adopt an enquiring, critical and reflective approach to the study of religion’.
“The provision made for GCSE in the majority of the secondary schools surveyed failed to provide enough curriculum time for pupils to extend and deepen their learning sufficiently.”
It calls on local authorities and SACREs to “work more closely with schools and academies to build networks and share good practice”.
Michael Cladingbowl, Ofsted’s director of schools, said: “Too often we found RE lessons being squeezed out by other subjects and children and young people leaving school with little knowledge or understanding of different religions.”
However, Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, was clear that RE had been hit by both the EBacc and the academies programme.
She said: “Any examination of RE should review the role of academies’ and free schools’ curriculum freedoms in undermining the role of SACREs, who determine local RE syllabuses. The EBacc performance measure, which has limited schools’ focus to the core curriculum subjects, has made, in Mr Gove’s own words, RE the ‘unintended casualty’ of the curriculum reforms.
“Improving the experience of RE in schools for pupils also involves increasing the access of RE teachers to high-quality professional development. Leaving this support to local SACREs is no longer sufficient against a backdrop of local authority funding cuts and the academisation programme.”
The report, Religious Education: Realising the potential, can be downloaded at www.ofsted.gov.uk