‘Ambivalence’ towards RE, but not in Scottish Catholic schools
Glasgow University professor highlights that as little as £1 per pupil is now spent on the subject in the UK; Scottish Catholic Education Service director says report is worrying but not a reflection on religious education teaching in our Catholic schools
A professor of religious and philosophical education at Glasgow University has warned that the teaching of RE in the UK is being undermined by a ‘crippling ambivalence’ towards the subject in state schools.
In research published today, Professor James Conroy has warned that RE is becoming less focused on issues of faith as schools ‘overburden’ the curriculum with everything from citizenship to sex and relationships.
The professor (above with Archbishop Mario Conti) said that, nationally, as little as £1 per pupil is now spent on the subject.
Professor Conroy’s three-year study—based on an in-depth analysis of 24 schools—found that the best teachers used RE to form close bonds with the local community and provide pupils with the meanings behind different rituals and social practices.
He said that the problem of religious education teaching in the UK, however, ‘goes much deeper than individual teachers or schools.’
“It is symptomatic of a crippling ambivalence about RE which runs through British society, and infects educational policy,” Professor Conroy said.
Michael McGrath, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, highlighted that, although the report paints ‘a worrying picture’ of RE teaching, it only focused on a small number of UK schools and that it, therefore, does not offer the complete picture on religious education teaching in Catholic schools in Scotland.
“We expect all Catholic schools to make the teaching of religious education a priority, and the establishment of the new RE syllabus, This is Our Faith, shows that,” Mr McGrath said.
He added, however, that ‘we cannot be complacent’ and that the report highlights that the teaching of RE ‘is not being given the support that is required in every school’ throughout the UK.
Professor Conroy, whose paper is due to be presented today at a major debate in London focusing on religion in schools, warned that the decline in RE teaching was being fuelled by the UK Government’s decision to exclude it from the English Baccalaureate, a new school leaving certificate in England that rewards performance in a range of academic subjects including maths, history and languages.
“As religious and secular diversity increases, students need to be able to articulate their own beliefs, and engage seriously with those of others, as never before,” the professor said. “Respect and social harmony depend upon it.
“What is happening to RE in our schools is a scandal for which we will have to pay a high price in years to come.”
—Pic: Paul McSherry