As part of its report, the Commission on Religious Education makes important recommendations for the initial training of secondary and primary teachers to teach Religion and Worldviews.
Recommendation 6 is intrinsic to the Commission’s whole vision of developing Religion and Worldviews. It is also an important foundation stone in promoting an understanding of the subject from the beginning of initial teacher education (ITE). It identifies key concerns for RE – lack of time, the need for good subject knowledge and the importance of funding – which all need to be addressed to ensure this subject will survive and thrive. There have already been some positive responses to the recommendations around bursaries and subject knowledge enhancement for secondary teachers, which are very welcome as a starting point; but more now needs to be done to improve the preparation of teachers nationally. I know many ITE colleagues welcome Recommendation 6 because it makes a strongly-argued case for substantial and coherent action and includes practical ways to improve ITE and connect it to CPD.
From my perspective, as a primary ITE lecturer, the recommendation concerning primary ITE provides a unique opportunity to improve primary teachers’ engagement right from the start of their training and thereby raise standards across all schools. There is a wide range of different primary ITE routes, including undergraduate degrees, PGCEs, school-based training through SCITTs, School Direct programmes and Teach First programmes, which all need to prepare teachers for the primary curriculum. Until this recommendation, there has not been such a public pronouncement concerning the minimum amount of Religious Education training beginner primary teachers should receive. A concrete proposal of at least 12 hours for ‘all forms of primary ITE including School Direct and other school-based routes’ challenges the current practices of many primary ITE providers, as we know from reports by NATRE (2016) and others (APPG, 2013; Ofsted, 2013; CoRE, 2017). This recommendation provides an opportunity for all of us to seize the momentum of the Commission’s Report, share good practice and build flexible and coherent responses which can enhance ITE provision.
It is important for primary ITE providers to explore different models for the 12 hours which will work well in their settings and which address the current problems of time, subject knowledge and subject status which can make it difficult for beginner teachers to learn about the subject and gain teaching experience in school. Teaching about Religion and Worldviews needs to be seen as both a specific subject in its own right, but also as an intrinsic part of the whole curriculum, to which every pupil is entitled. But entitlement is not just for pupils. We need to recognise that beginner teachers should be entitled to know how to teach the whole curriculum and be properly introduced to the specific subject matter and pedagogies which, in excellent provision, makes this subject so special in pupils’ development and in the ways they interact with the world. Beginner teachers need time and good teaching to gain confidence and competence, which come from secure knowledge and understanding, combined with classroom experience. This subject has so much to offer in terms of inclusive practices and rich, engaging and pupil-centred pedagogies. Ofsted’s new Draft Education Inspection Framework intends a ‘full’ curriculum ‘that is ambitious and designed to give all learners…the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life’ (Ofsted, 2019,10). Religion and Worldviews should have a secure place in such a vision.
We know that changing practices will not be easy, but we need to seize this moment to challenge and improve the current situation in both primary and secondary ITE. Some improvements should be initiated from within the Religious Education community, with the expectation that our actions can influence future policy decisions. First all ITE providers need to be informed about Recommendation 6. Then identification and development of good practice needs to be shared, alongside on-line materials to supplement or enhance provision. Connections should be made among local and regional groups to bridge between ITE and CPD. The Commission’s Recommendation 6 is too good an opportunity to be missed. We may not get another chance to improve ITE provision in this subject on a national scale.
APPG (2013) The Truth Unmasked https://www.religiouseducationcouncil.org.uk/resources/documents/religious-education-the-truth-unmasked/
CoRE (2017) Religious Education for all https://www.commissiononre.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Commission-on-Religious-Education-Interim-Report-2017.pdf
NATRE (2016). An Analysis of the provision for RE in primary schools https://www.natre.org.uk/news/latest-news/an-analysis-of-the-provision-for-re-in-primary-schools/
Ofsted (2013). Religious Education: Realising the potential https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/religious-education-realising-the-potential
Ofsted (2019) Education inspection framework: draft for consultation https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/education-inspection-framework-draft-for-consultation
Dr Linda Whitworth is a Senior Lecturer in primary ITE at Middlesex University, and a CSTG Trustee.
Writing in a personal capacity