CES News (109)
“Preach the Gospel; use words if necessary”. This quote, attributed to St Francis of Assisi, sounds like a rebuke to Church press officers everywhere – how are we supposed to preach the Gospel if we can’t issue a press release? I’m not sure that the BBC would be terribly happy if next time they asked us for a comment we had to point out that we couldn’t say anything, because we preach the Gospel without words. Only we couldn’t even say that, because in doing so, we’d have to use words. It looks like we have an impossible task!
In our two-form entry Catholic primary school just near Heathrow there are 472 children on roll including the 52 who come part-time to our Nursery. They are all baptised Catholics and they all live in the same parish. These 472 children speak a total of 43 languages between them. When OFSTED came to our school in 2002 only 6% of the school roll spoke English as an additional language. When they came back 5 years later the figure had risen to 43%. It is now over 60% for the school as a whole and amongst our younger children the figure is nearer 80%.
The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, is keen that all schools an England should become Academies as soon as possible. Academy status, he argues, will give schools more freedom and autonomy to make their own educational decisions in pursuit of higher standards and provide more funding to achieve those standards. For some existing schools ‘in difficulty’ it will provide ‘new start’ opportunities.
Religious Education has been much in the news in the last year. The Schools Minister, Nick Gibb MP, was strenuously lobbied in the hope that he might reverse his decision to exclude RE from the ‘E-Bac’ (the English Baccalaureate — a collection of core GCSE subjects favoured by the Government), but to no avail. Yet in England and Wales it remains a statutory subject which must be studied by all registered pupils until the age of 18. However, the quality of RE in schools varies considerably, as does its content, and it is true to say that most RE teachers are fearful that its exclusion from the E-Bac will see a decline in the number of pupils entered for public examinations in the subject. The situation is more hopeful in Catholic schools where RE is regarded as the core of the whole curriculum and must be allotted 10% of the time available for teaching.
What is ‘Religious Education’? In some schools, RE is little more than Sociology of Religion, while in others it follows a Comparative Religion model, helping make true Ronald Knox’s observation that, ‘the study of comparative religions is the best way to become comparatively religious.’ If, as seems likely, Religious Studies GCSE declines as a result of the English Baccalaureate, then we are likely to see many RE lessons become a sort of curricular appendix into which all the non-exam subjects like Citizenship and Sex and Relationships Education may be quietly banished.