TRS-UK Response to Welsh ‘Ensuring Access to the Full Curriculum’ Consultation
What implications would there be for learners, parents/carers and schools if all learners were required to receive RE and/or RSE lessons in the new curriculum?
Theology and Religious Studies UK (TRS-UK) welcomes the proposal that all children should receive high quality Religious Education (RE). However, we are concerned that the proposal to subsume RE within the wider Humanities Area of Learning Experience may entail the erosion of RE as a discrete subject. Furthermore, we caution against the apparent linkage between RE and proposals regarding Relationships and Sex Education and strongly recommend that these be considered separately in the future.
TRS-UK supports the proposal for RE to be a requirement within the new curriculum. Religious literacy is increasingly vital for preparing learners for adult life. This proposal dovetails well with the Commission on Religious Education Report, which has secured significant support from the vast majority of RE stakeholders. However, we view with concern the positioning of RE as merely one area within a Humanities Area of Learning Experience with no specified teaching-time and with content to be determined by schools. This entails considerable risk to the subject, which is in turn liable to detrimentally affect the requirement for, and training of, specialist teachers.
Furthermore, we caution against the apparent linkage of the requirement for RE with that of Relationships and Sex Education (RSE). They are significantly different subjects. It is possible to support one and not the other, and so these proposals should be considered separately.
What support, information and guidance would be needed if this approach was adopted?
If made a required subject, care would have to be taken to ensure that RE maintains its disciplinary integrity within the wider Humanities Area of Learning Experience and its distinction from RSE. This will require recruiting teachers with relevant degrees, robust Initial Teacher Training, extensive Professional Learning and rigorous Estyn inspection. The new curriculum must be grounded in current research. Accordingly, Welsh Government is encouraged to consult with academic Subject Associations such as the British Association for the Study of Religion (BASR), British Sociological Association Study of Religion Group (SOCREL), Society for the Study of Theology (SST) and TRS-UK, as well as with the Religious Education Council of England and Wales.
Furthermore, guidance for schools on the curriculum time requirements within the Humanities Area of Learning Experience should be stated, in order to secure explicit, rigorous and high-quality education in Religion & Worldviews.
Our proposal is that parents/carers should not be able to prevent their child from having RE or RSE lessons. This will be rolled out from September 2022, for all primary age learners and learners in Year 7 in secondary school (with additional year groups being added each year).
TRS-UK supports the journey towards removal of the Right to Withdraw from RE, as a corollary to our view that education in Religion & Worldviews is a fundamental entitlement for all learners. Removal of the Right to Withdraw would ensure that the subject is on an equal legal footing with other subjects and would prevent egregious use of withdrawal for reasons of prejudice and racism. Learners have the right to a space where they can question and explore their own beliefs and values as well as those of others, regardless of the beliefs of their parents/carers and local communities.
TRS-UK does not have a view on the right of withdrawal from RSE.
What is an appropriate name for ‘religious education’, to accurately reflect the broader scope proposed in for the new curriculum?
The proposal for a name change to ‘Religions & Worldviews’ is problematic, because of the pluralising of ‘Religion.’ ‘Religions’ (plural) implies discrete entities to be studied in silos. It suggests separate objects of study; namely ‘religions’ and ‘worldviews’, implying that worldviews are non-religious. In fact, religious traditions constitute and inform worldviews.
Ultimately, however, TRS-UK takes the view that securing a strong and prominent place on the curriculum, properly trained teachers and significant resources are more important than whether the subject is called ‘Religious Education’, ‘Religion & Worldviews’ or ‘Religious Studies.’