The importance of rethinking religious education

Source: The Economist

NOT enough people want to teach the subject, and there are plenty of pupils, tax-payers and even head teachers who are highly sceptical about its benefits. And yet there are good grounds for saying that knowledge of this sort is more vital than ever for the health and normal functioning of society. With only slight exaggeration, that odd bundle of statements describes the state of religious education in England.

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In recent days, several news stories have highlighted this paradox. A professional body revealed that in the current academic year, less than two-thirds of the places (405 out of 643) in a training programme for religion teachers in England have been taken up. Weak supply is meeting weak demand, it would seem. Religion came near the bottom in a survey by YouGov, an independent pollster, that asked people which subjects deserved a big role in secondary education. More than half considered religion either “not very important” or “not at all important” as an item on the curriculum, whereas only 12% deemed it “very important”. By comparison, some 60% of respondents regarded courses in citizenship as either very or quite important, and 85% took the same view of teaching about sex and relationships.

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