Survey calls for an overhaul of religious education
By Luke Coppen THE TEACHING of religion must be upgraded in Catholic schools and set within a clear national framework, a wideranging survey of attitudes to religious education has found.
The survey, conducted by the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales last autumn, revealed widespread concern over the standards of religious instruction in Catholic schools.
A summary of the results, issued last week. contained a call for RE to be given a higher status in Catholic schools. It suggested that religion should be seen "the key subject in schools" and that 'middle and upper management" should recognise its singular importance by allotting 10 per cent of school time to it.
It also claimed there was a "confusion about the direction and purpose of RE from those in positions of authority" and called for the creation of a "national programme" to ensure high standards of religious teaching across the dioceses of England and Wales.
The survey also indicated the need for a clear definition of religious education. It made a sharp distinction between evangelisation and catechesis and RE.
"While a systematic presentation of doctrine is considered essential, it is not deemed by itself sufficient," the report said. Religious "education should equip the students to make mature and informed judgements about religious questions with insight into the implications of such decisions for themselves".
The survey also revealed high expectations of RE teachers. The ideal teacher should be a "witness" and a "model" to pupils, "strengthening the faith that parents have taught; planting the seeds of faith where parents have done nothing".
But the report also recognised the need for more support and professional training for RE teachers.
It called for teacher training to include "theological, spiritual and ministerial formation" and not only guidance on classroom practice.
The survey lamented the uneven provision of RE advisers across the dioceses. It noted "with some sadness that the number of specialist secondary RE advisers across 22 dioceses of England and Wales is now down to single figures".
Fr Liam Kelly, the assistant secretary general of the bishops' conference, who helped to compile the survey, said he was pleased with the responses.
"There are over 1,000 responses ranging from pupils to RE advisers, clergy and teachers. We are very encouraged by the response," he said.
Fr Kelly added that the strength of the response showed "the great concern over expectations for RE" among parents, teachers and pupils.
Over half the survey responses were from teachers and schools, with a quarter from parents, 80 from clergy, 23 from RE advisers and 15 from pupils.
The survey will be studied at a three-day national symposium on religious education to be held at London Colney, from January 10 to February 1.