Our school, undoubtedly in common with many others, has withdrawn next year’s Year 11 cohort from religious education. This is in flagrant contravention of the law, but is possible because there is no penalty imposed for such breaches.
The hours that would have been spent on religious education will instead be spent on English, mathematics and science. “Good,” will say those of a secular and utilitarian bent, “let them learn something useful.”
Except a seriously considered utilitarian approach would have kept the religious education and got rid of elements of English, mathematics and science. If that doesn’t make sense, then look at the religious education curriculum.
Half of what is taught, and half of the examination marks, relate to ethics and philosophy. Religious education looks at relationships, it looks at marriage and divorce, contraception, male and female roles. Religious education looks at human rights, it looks as freedom and control, prejudice and toleration, persecution and inclusion. Religious education looks at good and evil, it looks at crime and punishment, it looks at nature and nurture. Religious education looks at life and death, it looks at abortion and euthanasia, it looks at medical ethics and end of life care, it looks at quantity of life and quality of life.
There is not a single student in the cohort who will not at some point be affected by one or more of the issues. When the moment arrives, often a crisis moment, they will instead be equipped with such knowledge as the periodic table, algebra, and critical analyses of novels.
Of course, it is not an either/or question, there is no need for students not to have knowledge of the life issues they must face along with knowledge of English, mathematics and science. The problem has been caused by the reforms introduced when Michael Gove was education minister and the system of assessing schools those reforms initiated.
Religious education was assumed to be a legal requirement, but it was not made a core subject. Students’ scores are based on a bucket of subjects in which English, English Literature, Mathematics and Science are the core subjects of eight which contribute to a student’s Progress 8 score . Because it was assumed that religious education was taught, even if not examined, it was not given the status of the core subjects, the score it might contribute to a student’s progress was not considered equivalent.
Religious education has been dropped because schools are watching their Progress 8 scores. Schools are watching their Progress 8 scores because these are the scores by which the government deem them successful or not. Progress 8 scores are what are published on the government’s web pages.
Never mind if students leave knowing little of life issues, the number on the web page is what matters.