FAQs – expanded
Why is it important for children to have an education in religion and worldviews?
A national survey conducted by Savanta ComRes in summer 2021 found that 65% of UK adults felt an education in religion and worldviews has an impact on people’s ability to understand each other in wider society. Children and young people are growing up in a world where there is increasing awareness of the diversity of religious and non-religious worldviews; they will need to live and work well with people who hold different worldviews to their own.
An Ofsted Research Review (May 2021) stated that the subject is vital in preparing pupils to engage in a diverse and complex multi-religious and multi-secular society. Through their studies pupils will gain insights into culture, history, literature, philosophy, politics, theology and engage with important aspects of human experience. Children and young people themselves talk about the importance of the subject in terms of its value in increasing their knowledge and understanding, providing global and historical perspectives, supporting the development of positive values, helping with future careers as well as sparking the imagination and helping them make sense of the world. They are fascinated!
Why is a new approach to the teaching of religion and worldviews being advocated?
People who design syllabuses for this subject face several challenges. The law in England requires that syllabuses for the subject meet certain criteria. Those followed in schools and academies without a religious designation and some with, must ‘reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian whilst taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain’. Good practice in RE, as well as European and domestic legislation, has established the principle that RE in these schools should be inclusive of both religious and non-religious worldviews. The most common interpretation of the legislation that applies to RE means that most syllabuses used for the subject in English schools refer to Christianity, five other principal religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism and a non-religious worldview such as Humanism. This is known as a ‘world religions approach’. It began in the 1970s and became the dominant model for organising the curriculum.
A world religions approach does have some positive elements, but it has also been increasingly criticised. Here are three examples:
- Content selection has become unmanageable as increasing numbers of religious and non-religious worldviews are included, some ‘competing’ for coverage. There is a tendency to present a ‘normalised’ view of some worldviews, thus not appreciating diversity, divergence, and change. This issue of content selection has been highlighted in the Ofsted Research Review (2021).
- The world religions approach is based on a largely Western colonial (and often Christocentric) approach to content. There is often reference to ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ religions, potentially reinforcing stereotypes.
- A lack of inclusivity particularly for pupils who do not come from religious family backgrounds and/or alienating some pupils who identify with specific religious traditions, and who do not recognise their experience in the content taught.
What is meant by the study of ‘religion’?
This means pupils explore the nature of religion itself, as a concept, experience or idea that is important in human life. Pupils might ask questions like ‘What is a religion? Is a religion different to a faith? Is a religion just a name for a belief system? Do we all mean the same thing when we talk about religion?’. As pupils study and encounter worldviews they develop their understanding of the concept of religion; re-shaping and modifying that concept as their knowledge and understanding grows. They may study what it means to live a religious way of life, learning that religion has both positive and negative connotations and can be open to many interpretations.
Pupils will gain an understanding of the different ways in which religion is studied, for example, by asking, historical, philosophical, sociological or theological questions.
What is meant by the study of worldviews?
The concept of worldview has been used in various ways by different authors. The Commission on RE(2018) report defines worldview as: “A person’s way of understanding, experiencing and responding to the world and distinguishes between ‘organised worldviews’ and ‘personal worldviews’, both of which should be studied. A worldview can be described as a philosophy of life or an approach to life. This includes how a person understands the nature of reality and their own place in the world. A person’s worldview is likely to influence and be influenced by their beliefs, values, behaviours, experiences, identities and commitments.”
Learn more about the concept of worldview in “Worldview:- A Multidisciplinary Report – Aston Research Explorer”.
How can an education in religion and worldviews prepare pupils for adult life?
In addition to its primary purposes (see question 1 above), an education in religion and worldviews can help adults to deal more skilfully with controversial issues, and contribute to their capacity to be responsible employers, informed employees, and open-minded citizens. The ability to manage a divergence of opinion whilst showing respect for the right of people to hold opinions that are different to their own is a valuable skill for life both at home, socially and in the workplace. This suggests religion and worldviews approach helps to challenge stereotypes promoting both self-awareness and community cohesion. In a national survey conducted in summer 2021, 63% employees thought it was important to understand other people’s beliefs in the workplace.
Will this approach mean children won’t learn as much about religions as they have done before?
It is not possible for pupils to study everything there is to know about each school curriculum subject. Curriculum makers, for all subjects, make choices about what pupils learn. This applies to an education in religion and worldviews too. Ofsted (2021) suggests “High-quality RE (or Religion and Worldviews) curriculums do not require excessive content but … contain collectively enough substantive knowledge to enable pupils to recognise the diverse and changing religious and non-religious traditions of the world.”
The use of the religion and worldviews approach will not limit curriculum makers’ choices about how many religions and beliefs (or religious and non-religious worldviews) to include in their programme of study. Some schools, such as some of those with a religious character, may choose to focus on one or two specific religious traditions. Others may choose or be directed by a local agreed syllabus to include Christianity, the other principal religions represented in Great Britain alongside non-religious worldviews as set out in the legal framework.