A third of community schools and more than a third of academies without a religious character are failing to meet their contractual or legal obligations to provide religious education at key stage 4.
The findings come in a study from the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE) based on information from 580 schools.
State schools must teach RE to under-16s – whether they are studying for a GCSE in the subject or not – but provision has been reduced since RE was excluded from the government’s English Baccalaureate league table measure.
Previous NATRE research in 2012 found that a third of all schools (33 per cent) were not meeting the legal requirement at key stage 4 – an increase of five per cent on 2011.
The latest report shows an overall improvement on 2012’s figure, with a quarter of all schools (26 per cent) now falling short of their obligations.
However, once schools with a religious character are removed from the sample, the figures show that 33 per cent of community schools and 35 per cent of academies are still not meeting their duties.
At the same time, schools continue to reduce the number of qualified RE teachers on their staff, with one in five community schools and academies without religious character reporting a reduction in specialist staff. This comes on top of the 2012 survey which showed that a quarter of schools had reduced specialist teachers.
In around a third (31 per cent) of secondary schools, one in five RE lessons are filled by teachers with timetable gaps, rather than those with “expertise and understanding of the subject”.
Elsewhere, the study found that 12 per cent of schools are failing to meet their statutory duty on RE at key stage 3, including 16 per cent of community schools and 11 per cent of academies without a religious character.
Also, 57 per cent of schools plan to make no GCSE religious studies short course entries this year, compared with 41 per cent in 2012.
Education secretary Michael Gove has previously admitted that RE has been the “unintended casualty of reforms” and chairman of NATRE Ed Pawson said the new data “proves his point”.
He added: “The EBacc has edged RE out of the school curriculum and pupils are losing out on valuable education about the world’s faith and belief systems.
“Good RE is a vital part of a pupil’s whole education. Taught by a specialist, RE reaches beyond class teaching and helps develop skills young people can take into the wider world.
“Yet this research shows that schools are squeezing RE into less time and unfilled timetable slots, often with teachers lacking in adequate training or support. This trend has to be reversed now.”
The findings come after a report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on RE in March discovered a shortfall in training and support for RE teachers.
Chair of the group, Stephen Lloyd MP, said this week: “RE teaches us to understand, question, and see the world from a better informed perspective. When RE is diluted, young people leave school ill-prepared to make sense of religion and belief and unable to respond to different views and beliefs in an informed, rational and insightful way. It’s vital we work closely with ministers and education officials to ensure RE is not sidelined.”