Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted)
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New Ofsted report finds schools need to add depth to their RE curriculum

Ofsted has today published a subject report looking at how religious education (RE) is being taught in England’s schools.

  • Leaders are keen to improve the quality of education in RE.
  • The RE curriculum is often superficially broad and lacks depth.
  • In secondary schools, teachers focus too much on what pupils need to know for exams.

The report draws on evidence from visits to a sample of primary and secondary schools last year.

Inspectors found that leaders have been keen to improve the quality of education in RE. However, evidence shows that there has been little progress since Ofsted’s last subject report in 2013. Today’s report finds there is still a lack of clarity on the curriculum and recommends that government should provide better guidance about what should be taught and when.

While the report notes some examples of stronger practice, it concludes that the RE curriculum in most schools is superficially broad but lacks depth. Where the curriculum tries to cover many religions, pupils generally remember very little. Where the curriculum prioritises depth of study, pupils learn much more.

The report also shows that the content of some secondary curriculums is restricted by what teachers decide pupils need to know for their Key Stage 4 exams. Sometimes pupils practice GCSE style assessments before they have mastered enough substantive knowledge.

Ofsted also found that a significant proportion of schools do not meet the statutory requirement to teach religious education at all stages of a pupils’ journey through school.

Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Sir Martyn Oliver, said:

A strong RE curriculum is not only important for pupils’ cultural development, it is a requirement of law and too many schools are not meeting that obligation.

I hope that the examples of good RE curriculum in our report help schools develop their own practice and support the development of a strong REcurriculum for all.

The report contains a number of recommendations for schools, including that they should:

  • Make sure there is a distinct curriculum in place for teaching RE at all key stages. This should be rigorous and challenging and it demonstrably build on what pupils already know.

  • Leaders in secondary schools should design the curriculum to meet or exceed exam board specifications, rather than be driven by them.

  • Make sure that all teachers have the subject and pedagogical knowledge that they need to teach RE well.

  • Organise the timetable for RE so that gaps between teaching are minimised.

  • Provide opportunities for pupils to review and build on important knowledge over time. Pupils should be able to use the knowledge that they gained in previous years as the curriculum becomes increasingly more complex and demanding.

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