Does religious education work?



The first in-depth study into the aims, practices and effects of Religious Education in schools has been published by a team of UK academics led by the University of Glasgow.

The £365,326 three-year project* – led by James Conroy, Professor of Religious and Philosophical Education at the University of Glasgow and jointly funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) – is the single most comprehensive study to date of the state of Religious Education across the United Kingdom.

The key findings of the project were:

• The breadth of social and educational demands, placed on Religious Education leads to a conflict between RE as an academic subject aligned to the Arts and Humanities and RE as a subject aimed at students’ social and personal development which overlap with Citizenship and Social Education. This can lead to students being unclear about the purpose and focus of the subject.

• Religious Education has become very popular among students, with high rates of examination success – it also appears, however, that the drive to achieve examination success tends to distort the religious and educational aims and outcomes of the subject.

• The quality of resources and their use in the later stages of compulsory RE are often poor and the sometimes too comfortable relationship between examination boards and textbook authors should be subject to more intense scrutiny.

• Some of the strongest Religious Education is to be found in schools serving strongly religious communities, especially in schools which see the subject as explicitly part of helping students to understand their place in a complex multi-cultural and multi-religious society

• All of these findings must be understood in the context of resource concerns in a political environment where RE faces a potential downgrading in favour of a more limited curriculum. Religious education is often under-resourced, with some schools spending as little as 60p per pupil per year.

Professor James Conroy, Principal Investigator said: “This 3-year AHRC/ESRC study has thrown up a substantial range of questions about the provision of religious education across Britain. Even in schools where it is valued, too often it is under-resourced and required to do too much with too little. As a result, it often looses focus. At its best, it is academically rigorous and intellectually stimulating and can hold its own against the arts and humanities in the newly re-discovered \’traditional\’ curriculum.”

The study examined religious education in the very different contexts of England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland and carried out a detailed analysis of students\’ lived experience of religious education as a shaping influence in 24 secondary schools across the UK.