Easter is approaching but children's religious education is being damaged by an acute shortage of qualified RE teachers, according to a leading figure in Lincolnshire education. An increasing numbers of British children do not recognise stories such as the Nativity, the Crucifixion and Adam and Eve as coming from the Bible.

Nigel Appleton, Dean of Teacher Development at Bishop Grosseteste University in Lincoln, says RE is an important subject which is being neglected because of a lack of teachers training in the subject. More than half of RE lessons in Lincolnshire's secondary schools are taught by non-specialists while over half of primary teachers don't feel confident teaching RE.

"RE is a subject which is central to the school curriculum but it sometimes doesn't get the attention it deserves," he said. "Bishop Grosseteste University has been granted some additional PGCE secondary RE training places for 2014-15 in recognition of our track record of supporting RE in schools, and a few of these additional places are still available."

"We also ensure our primary trainees are prepared to teach RE and have an opportunity to train to lead the subject in their primary schools. Recruitment is also still open for the primary PGCE."

The growing crisis in RE teaching has coincided with new research which shows that UK children are unfamiliar with stories from the Bible. A survey for the Bible Society published in February found almost three in 10 young people were unaware that the story of the birth of Jesus came from the Bible. A similar number of children had never read or heard about tales of the Crucifixion or Adam and Eve. The report was based on a poll of 800 children aged eight to 15.

Gillian Georgiou, Diocesan RE Adviser at the Diocese of Lincoln, said the problem is becoming acute for all schools. "It's certainly difficult for schools to find specialists with an RE degree," she said. "More than half of RE teaching in the UK is done by teachers who are not RE specialists, so we can assume that the situation in Lincolnshire is similar."

"A quarter of primary teachers receive no training in RE at all and almost half receive less than three hours in their entire training programme. Most of the primary teachers I talk to are not confident about teaching the subject."

A recent report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Religious Education, entitled RE: The Truth Unmasked, found:

  • in over half of the 300 participating primary schools some or all pupils were taught RE by someone other than their class teacher
  • in a quarter of these schools RE was taught by teaching assistants - a finding the report found "unacceptable"
  • about half of primary teachers and trainee teachers lack confidence in teaching RE
  • there is a wide variation in the extent of initial teacher training in RE and too many trainee teachers have little effective preparation for teaching the subject
  • over half of RE teachers in secondary schools have no qualification or appropriate expertise in the subject - a finding which the report again found "unacceptable"

Gillian Georgiou added that RE should be more highly valued by people thinking of training for a teaching career. "It's a subject that touches on the majority of different areas of human experience. It's highly valued by parents, universities and head teachers and it's essential in helping children to engage with the community locally, nationally and globally," she said.

To find out more about primary and secondary PGCE RE training at Bishop Grosseteste University call 01522 527347 or visit our PGCE Primary and PGCE Secondary pages.

17th April 2014