Religious Education (RE) is part of the core entitlement of all pupils in maintained schools and a Government requirement for Academies and Free Schools. RE forms part of the basic curriculum of every maintained school, academy and free school and as such it holds a unique place within the curriculum and within education law.
What is RE?
The Importance of Religious Education
Religion and beliefs inform our values and are reflected in what we say and how we behave. RE is an important subject in itself, developing an individual’s knowledge and understanding of the religions and beliefs which form part of contemporary society.
RE provokes challenging questions about the ultimate meaning and purpose of life, beliefs about God, the self and the nature of reality, issues of right and wrong, and what it means to be human. It can develop pupils’ knowledge and understanding of Christianity, of other principal religions, other religious traditions and world views that offer answers to questions such as these.
RE also contributes to pupils’ personal development and well-being and to community cohesion by promoting mutual respect and tolerance in a diverse society. RE can also make important contributions to other parts of the school curriculum such as citizenship, personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE education), the humanities, education for sustainable development and others. It offers opportunities for personal reflection and spiritual development, deepening the understanding of the significance of religion in the lives of others – individually, communally and cross-culturally.
Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural Development
Section 78 (1) of the 2002 Education Act states that all pupils should follow a balanced and broadly based curriculum which ‘promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, social, mental and physical development of pupils and of society, and prepares pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life’. Learning about and from religions and beliefs, through the distinct knowledge, understanding and skills contained in RE within a broad-based curriculum, is essential to achieving these aims. Exploring the concepts of religion and belief and their roles in the spiritual, moral and cultural lives of people in a diverse society helps individuals develop moral awareness and social understanding.
Personal Development and Well-being
RE plays an important role in preparing pupils for adult life, employment and lifelong learning. It helps children and young people become successful learners, confident individuals and responsible citizens. It gives them the knowledge, skills and understanding to discern and value truth and goodness, strengthening their capacity for making moral judgements and for evaluating different types of commitment to make positive and healthy choices.
RE makes an important contribution to a school’s duty to promote community cohesion. It provides a key context to develop young people’s understanding and appreciation of diversity, to promote shared values and to challenge racism and discrimination.
RE subject matter gives particular opportunities to promote an ethos of respect for others, challenge stereotypes and build understanding of other cultures and beliefs. This contributes to promoting a positive and inclusive school ethos that champions democratic values and human rights.
In summary, RE for children and young people:
- Provokes challenging questions about the meaning and purpose of life, beliefs, the self, issues of right and wrong, and what it means to be human. It develops pupils’ knowledge and understanding of Christianity, other principal religions, and religious traditions that examine these questions, fostering personal reflection and spiritual development.
- Encourages pupils to explore their own beliefs (whether they are religious or non-religious), in the light of what they learn, as they examine issues of religious belief and faith and how these impact on personal, institutional and social ethics; and to express their responses. This also builds resilience to anti-democratic or extremist narratives.
- Enables pupils to build their sense of identity and belonging, which helps them flourish within their communities and as citizens in a diverse society.
- Teaches pupils to develop respect for others, including people with different faiths and beliefs, and helps to challenge prejudice.
- Prompts pupils to consider their responsibilities to themselves and to others, and to explore how they might contribute to their communities and to wider society. It encourages empathy, generosity and compassion.
RE has an important part to play as part of a broad, balanced and coherent curriculum to which all pupils are entitled.
Cornwall Standing Advisory Council Religious Education (SACRE) advises that schools reflect seriously on what they want their pupils to get out of the experience of collective worship and to understand this as a unique opportunity within the school’s day to promote spiritual development.
Collective Worship is an important part of the current education system which is often misunderstood or, at worst, ignored. Nevertheless, collective worship has the opportunity to transform a school and its pupils outside of the pressures of curriculum but within the school day. It provides the opportunity for the school to meet together in a variety of contexts and to consider itself in terms of the great ideas and events of the world and be able to see its life and the lives of its pupils and staff as part of the rich tapestry of human experience and existence.
Advice from the Cornwall SACRE seeks to promote among Cornwall schools two things:
- Compliance with the law; and
- Meaningful collective worship which positively contributes to the spiritual, moral, social and cultural life of the school and development of its pupils.
What is the Aim of Collective Worship?
The DfES Circular 1/94 gives the current advice of the Department on collective worship. It clearly sets out the aims of collective worship in the mind of the government. Collective worship in schools should aim to provide the opportunity for pupils:
- To worship God
- To consider spiritual and moral issues and to explore their own beliefs
- To encourage participation and response, whether through active involvement in the presentation of worship or through listening to and joining in the worship offered; and
- To develop community spirit, promote a common ethos and shared values, and reinforce positive attitudes (Paragraph 50)
In this sense collective worship is something which should be distinctive in the life of the school and should provide particular sorts of experience for pupils which are different to what they would get in a lesson as part of the curriculum.
Further details of the SACRE advice can be downloaded from the link below.
SACRE’s advice on the issue of parental withdrawal as set out in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 and further clarifying legislation.
Collective Worship is set down in education law as a feature of every school’s life affecting every school day. As such it is not a part of the curriculum but has a peculiar contribution to make in forming the young people of today and the adults of tomorrow. Within the legal provision parents have the right to withdraw their children in whole or in part from collective worship. This guidance is based on the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 and seeks to set out what the school is expected to do with regard to collective worship, the rights of parents and the responses schools may wish to make when pupils are withdrawn. DfE guidance on collective worship can be found in Circular 1/94 and community schools may also wish to consult the guidance previously provided by SACRE to all County schools.