Call for more focus on religious education at West Sussex schools

The issue of religious education in West Sussex schools was discussed this week
The issue of religious education in West Sussex schools was discussed this week

Concerns have been raised that religious education (RE) is seen as less important than other subjects by some West Sussex schools.

The issue was discussed by the standing advisory council for religious education (SACRE), in Chichester on Monday, which also heard that some schools were not meeting the legal requirements to teach the subject.

A survey of the county’s secondary schools showed that, in the majority, children in Years 7, 8 and 9 were receiving an hour or less of RE per week.

In addition, at GCSE level, almost half of students who did not opt to take the subject, received no religious studies.

Members recognised that this was a nationwide issue, but Jacky Pendleton (Con, Middleton) said the figures worried her.

She added: “Why is it that we get to an age when we’re learning morality, we’re learning more about living in the world, less cosseted by our parents, more independent, and we’re not talking about religious studies as a substantive subject?”

Several members felt RE was being marginalised within schools.

While it was pointed out that the subject was often absorbed into other areas such as PSHE, they said more needed to be done to make it ‘more relevant to people’, ‘more powerful’, and more than ‘just an addition to the curriculum’.

The survey showed that 35 children across Key Stages 3 and 4 had been withdrawn from the classes so that they could work on their numeracy and literary skills.

Only a few were withdrawn at their parents’ request, mostly for academic reasons, though two families did not want their children to study Islam.

Members pointed out that, in today’s diverse society, it was more important than ever for children to learn about and understand each other’s beliefs.

The point was emphasised by Brian Quinn (Lab, Broadfield), who read a comment from a Year 10 RE student, who said: “Studying RE has helped me have more friends in school – there are other faiths in school and my best friend is a Muslim. We are connected because we’ve got to understand each other’s faiths through RE.”

While recognising the pressures already faced by schools, SACRE agreed to write to headteachers to raise the issues with them.