Religious Education and the English Baccalaureate

The campaign (RE.ACT) to persuade the Coalition Government to change its mind about excluding GCSE Religious Education (RE) from the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) in secondary schools hotted up on 24 June with the simultaneous publication of two new surveys accompanied by rather alarmist press releases.

The first was a report by the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE), based on an online (Survey Monkey) poll of RE teachers in 1,918 schools over a 10-day period commencing 22 May 2011. These schools represented 53% of the maintained secondary school sector in England.

The report was launched with a joint release by NATRE and the Religious Education Council of England and Wales with the key message that ‘Religious education in schools is being killed off’. Government’s ‘rapidly implemented plans to shake up the educational system are set to shake out RE. This may not be deliberate but is the inevitable unintended consequence of other actions.’

Informing these headlines was the fact that, according to the NATRE survey, 20% of schools were already failing to meet the legal requirement to provide RE for all pupils at Key Stage 4, with 24% expecting to fall short in 2011/12. Even at Key Stage 3 9% of schools did not meet the obligation. Neither were faith schools immune from non-compliance.

Moreover, 32% of schools had experienced a drop in GCSE entries for 2011/12 in the full RE course and 22% in the short course, the EBacc being the single commonest reason cited for the decline.  More than one-quarter of academy, community and grammar schools also anticipated specialist RE staff reductions for 2011/12.

The NATRE report is available at:

The second study was a ComRes poll, commissioned by Premier Christian Media Group (which has organized a petition of over 140,000 signatures to press for the inclusion of RE in the EBacc), and undertaken among an online sample of 2,005 Britons aged 18 and over on 10-12 June 2011.

The press release accompanying the results was entitled ‘Teach young people about other religions or risk religious extremism, warns new public poll’. This was a reference to the findings that:

  • 81% of respondents believed that, without education, people become intolerant of different cultures and religions;
  • 77% were convinced that knowledge of different religions helped promote community cohesion;
  • 71% predicted that British society would become more divided, unless children and young people are taught about different cultures and religions; and
  • 57% envisaged such teaching would reduce extremism and fundamentalism in Britain

Additionally, 88% of the sample agreed that learning about different cultures and faiths in Britain and the rest of the world is important, and 84% that it contributed to an understanding of modern society. 68% judged that children and young people did not know enough about religions and cultures other than their own. 

The full computer tabulations for the ComRes poll, with a range of breaks (gender, age, social grade, region, employment sector, knowledge of world religions, level of RE at school), can be downloaded from:

It could be argued that these high values in favour of RE are somewhat misleading in that, in the ComRes poll, RE was not in contention with other curriculum subjects. It is therefore instructive to examine the ComRes outcomes alongside a survey by YouGov among 1,374 Britons aged 18 and over, interviewed online on 15-16 June 2011.

Although this did not expressly mention the EBacc, it did ask which of twenty GCSE subjects should count towards the construction of school performance league tables. RE came only sixteenth in the rank order, scoring 21%, with just Latin, media studies, drama and dance below it.

The subjects topping the YouGov list were mathematics, English, science, modern languages, and history/geography – precisely the disciplines included in the EBacc. So perhaps public support for school RE is not quite so strong as the RE lobbyists would wish to be the case? The YouGov statistics can be found at:

This YouGov poll was a replication of an earlier one, conducted on 11-12 January 2011, which ranked RE as the fifteenth most important GCSE subject in the construction of school league tables, with 22% support. See our coverage at:

British Religion in Numbers: All the material published on this website is subject to copyright. We explain further here.

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