Recommendation 6 of the Commission on Religious Education’s Final Report has focused attention on teacher preparation in England for Religious Education (RE) during primary Initial Teacher Education (ITE). It recommends at least twelve hours for ‘all forms of primary ITE’, challenging the current provision of many primary ITE providers. Information gathered by the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE) and others demonstrates the need to improve not only the hours taught, but also the quality of provision across all training routes. Many beginner teachers lack confidence in their RE subject knowledge and fear causing offence. If RE is to play a valid part in a twenty-first century primary curriculum, training needs to address these concerns and develop understanding of the complex knowledge the subject requires. This paper explores aspects of knowledge in RE, the importance of relating developing practical wisdom to subject knowledge and considers a project which responds directly to the Commission’s report.
The Commission on Religious Education was established by the Religious Education Council (REC) for England and Wales in 2016. Its purpose was to ‘review the legal, educational and policy frameworks for religious education’ in England (CORE 2017, p. 16). Although established by the REC, the Commission was independent and had the purpose of improving ‘the quality and rigour of religious education and its capacity to prepare pupils for life in modern Britain’ (CORE 2017, p. 106). Its Final Report, Religion and Worldviews: The Way Forward, a national plan for RE (CORE 2018) describes the situation in England where Religious Education (RE) is in a parlous state in many schools. (APPG 2013; Ofsted 2013; NATRE 2017; CORE 2017, 2018; Myatt 2020; Brine and Chater 2020). It outlines reasons for the decline in RE provision in primary/elementary (pupils aged 5–11) and secondary (pupils aged 11–18) schools and proposes eleven recommendations which could improve the understanding and delivery of RE in England if they are developed further. The Report has already galvanised academics, consultants and teachers into new thinking about RE or Religion and Worldviews (RW), as one of the recommendations calls the subject. In particular there have been keen debates around the new name (Recommendation 1), the need for a National Entitlement (Recommendation 2) and the suggested removal of the right to withdraw pupils from RE (Recommendation 11), as well as the proposal for local advisory networks (Recommendation 8). It is important to see the recommendations as a complete and interconnected group, which together set out to provide the impetus for a multi-faceted improvement in the status and provision of the subject. They also need to be seen within the context of a wider range of publications concerning RE and the resulting debate about the nature, content and intentions of the subject (Conroy et al. 2013; Clarke and Woodhead 2015, 2018; The Woolf Institute 2015; Dinham and Shaw 2015; CORE 2017; Castelli and Chater 2018; Chater 2020; Freathy and John 2019). The Commission calls for responses ranging from policy makers and inspectors to local SACREs and classroom teachers. It sets out its own agenda, but it is also embedded in the challenges and developments set out within other reports from the RE community in England and the UK.