Ofsted report into Religious Education shows long overdue need for reform, says Humanists UK

The UK Government must carry out long overdue reform of the teaching of Religious Education (RE) in England to meet the needs of modern society, says Humanists UK in response to another Ofsted review.

In its deep-dive report into RE –  Deep and meaningful? – Ofsted found that the current curriculum often lacks ‘sufficient substance to prepare pupils to live in a complex world’. It also found that here was a ‘profound misconception among some leaders and teachers that ‘teaching from a neutral stance’ equates to teaching a non-religious worldview’, On the issue of non-religious worldviews inspectors reported that

‘curriculums typically contained little about both defined non-religious traditions, such as Humanism, and the complexity of contemporary beliefs’.

The report also heard from pupils themselves who said the subject ‘did not reflect their experience of living in a complex world’. One pupil told inspectors:

‘We learn what the Pope thinks about something, and that’s fine. But what about other thinkers, such as Humanists?’

In 2015 the High Court ruled that non-religious worldviews like humanism should be given ‘equal respect’ in RE syllabuses.

This is not the first time RE has been the subject of criticism. In Ofsted’s 2023 Annual Report the subject was described ‘not fit for purpose’ in too many schools. In a major 2022 Government report, the Bloom Review, author Colin Bloom called on the government to

‘look again at why religious education (RE) in schools has become the “Cinderella subject” and should consider methods for improving the teaching of faith literacy and RE’.

As RE syllabuses are approved locally the quality can vary local authority by local authority. Humanists UK have long campaigned for a modern, consistent, and inclusive religion and non-religious worldviews syllabus, believing that this would improve the rigour and quality of lessons, and respect the different beliefs of all children.

Humanists UK’s Education Campaigns Manager Lewis Young said:

‘When taught well, and education in religion and worldviews education can equip pupis with a good understanding of the world around them and develop their critical thinking skills. Disappointingly, Ofsted’s deep-dive into RE shows once again that despite High Court judgments, major reports and sustained criticism from inspectors, the problems faced by the subject continue, and the teaching of non-religious worldviews such as humanism remains inconsistent.

‘It’s time the UK Government looked seriously at reforming how religious education is taught in English schools, introduce a nationally set curriculum, and ensure non-religious worldviews like humanism are accorded equal respect in the syllabus.’