CES News (149)
High quality Religious Education is essential for producing well rounded, religiously literate young people. In a similar respect, well taught Relationship and Sex Education plays a vital role in preparing children for life in modern Wales as well as keeping them safe.
Therefore, Catholic schools already teach high quality RE and RSE, and they teach it well. In fact, our model RSE curriculum is widely recognised as best practice, not just for Catholic schools but for secular schools as well.
Nevertheless, parents are the primary educators of their children and schools exist to support, not replace them. This is particularly important when dealing with sensitive and deeply personal topics such as faith and RSE. To remove the right of withdrawal would, therefore, be huge erosion of parental rights and represent regressive step in the relationship between parents and the state.
The parental right of withdrawal is an essential principle which incentivises a constructive dialogue between schools and parents. This is what Catholic schools already do, and in 2018 no pupils were withdrawn from RSE in Catholic schools. We see this as a mark of success and not as an excuse to remove this right.
We are also deeply concerned about the proposed name change of RE to include ‘worldviews’ as this would represent a dumbing down of RE. By including a range of non-religious ‘worldviews’ into, what is in Catholic schools, an academically rigorous theological discipline, would water down RE and reduce it to an over-simplistic comparison exercise which fails to understand the deep fundamentals of faith and religion.
Notes to Editors
There are 85 Catholic schools in Wales educating more than 28,000 young people and employing almost 3,000 members of staff.
The Catholic Church and the Church in Wales are the only non-state providers of schools in Wales.
The belief that parents are the primary educators of their children is enshrined in Canon Law (the law of the Catholic Church)
RSE in Catholic schools is faithful to the Church's vision of human wholeness whilst recognising the contemporary context in which we live today.
Links to the Catholic model RSE curriculum can be found here: http://www.catholiceducation.org.uk/schools/relationship-sex-education
RE in Catholic schools is at the core of the core curriculum and accounts for 10% of the timetable. Whilst predominately focused on the Catholic theological tradition, it covers all the major world faiths as well as the atheist critique of religion.
The Bishop of Salford addressed a well-attended fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference yesterday.
The reception, organised by the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, The Catholic Education Service, and the Catholic Herald, celebrated the work of the Church in public life.
More than 70 MPs, local councillors and party members attended the event to hear from the Bishop of Salford, the Rt Rev. John Arnold.
Bishop John paid tribute to the work of Catholics in public life, thanking them for their vocation to serve the common good.
In his speech he also stressed the need for more kindness in the country’s political discourse as well as the desire for all political parties to prioritise measures to tackle the climate emergency.
The Rt Rev Marcus Stock, Bishop of Leeds, has been elected as the new Chairman of the Catholic Education Service.
He was elected at the Bishops’ spring plenary held at the Royal English College in Valladolid, Spain and succeeds the Most Rev, Malcolm McMahon, Archbishop of Liverpool.
Archbishop McMahon, who has chaired the CES since 2009, was elected as the Vice President of the Bishops’ Conference.
Bishop Stock was Director of Schools for the Archdiocese of Birmingham between 1999 – 2009 and Acting Director of the CES between 2011 – 13. He has been a member of the Management Committee of the CES since 2015.
Bishop Stock commented: “The Catholic Education Service provides vital support and guidance for dioceses and schools throughout England and Wales, and I look forward as its new Chairman to working with the CES in the years ahead.
“I would like to thank Archbishop McMahon for the dedicated and faithful service he has given to the CES over the last ten years and assure him of our prayers for his new role.”
As part of the revision of the Religious Education Curriculum Directory we are seeking the views of teachers. This will be done in two stages. The first stage is to ask schools to complete a questionnaire. The questionnaire can be completed using this link:
The deadline for questionnaire submissions is 24th May 2019.
The second stage is to invite teachers to a face to face consultation as part of the CREDO professional development days in the summer. The dates and venues for these are as follows:
Saturday 22 June, St Mary’s University, Twickenham
Tuesday 25 June, Leeds Trinity University
Wednesday 26 June, Liverpool Hope University
Wednesday 3 July, Newman University, Birmingham
To see full details for each of these days and to book a place please use the links below:
For Saturday 22 June at St Mary’s, click here:
For Tuesday 25 June at Leeds Trinity, click here:
For Wednesday 26 June at Liverpool Hope, click here:
For Wednesday 3 July at Newman, click here:
The revised edition of the Religious Education Curriculum Directory has a planned publication date of September 2020.
Paul Barber, Director of the Catholic Education Service commented: “We welcome this commitment by the Government to improve Relationships and Sex Education in all schools.
“Catholic education is centred on the formation of the whole child and age appropriate RSE is an essential part of this. It is essential for creating well rounded young people, for equipping students to make good life choices, and for keeping our children safe.
“As such, the Catholic schools’ sector is the only one in the country to have a comprehensive and holistic RSE curriculum for ages 3-19. The proposals announced by the Government today are compatible with the Catholic model curriculum.
“In fact, the Government’s own statutory guidance recognises the Catholic RSE curriculum as an excellent example for schools to use and is one of the few external organisations the guidance referenced as best practice examples.
“The Catholic Church teaches that parents are the prime educators of their children and we are pleased to see the Government sharing this fundamental principle.”
A spokesperson for the Catholic Education Service commented: “As a leading provider of Religious Education, we welcome the laudable efforts of the Commission to improve the quality of RE in all schools. However, for this noble aim to be achieved, there needs to be consensus among the RE community on what high quality RE looks like. Disappointingly, this report fails to produce such a consensus.
“Any attempt to improve the quality of RE in all schools must be applauded and we are committed to working with the RE community to achieve this. However, this report is not so much an attempt to improve RE as to fundamentally change its character. The proposed name change to include ‘worldviews’ means that the scope of the subject is now so wide and nondescript that it would potentially lose all academic value and integrity. As we have always maintained, the quality of Religious Education is not improved by teaching less religion.
“RE in Catholic schools is academically rigorous, rooted in the 2000-year-old theological tradition of the Catholic Church, and inspired by the greatest thinkers, from the theology of St Thomas Aquinas to the humanism of St Thomas More. This is why at GCSE, pupils in Catholic schools account for a fifth of all entrants and continually outperform the national average.
“The Catholic Church will always welcome any move to improve the quality RE, our praise of the new, more academically rigorous GCSE is proof of that. Moreover, the Commission’s recommendation for the DfE to review the impact of excluding RE from the Ebacc is something we wholeheartedly agree with.
“The quality of RE in all schools needs to be improved and there are many ways this can be achieved. Including it as an Ebacc subject is one, succumbing to this contentious redefinition of Religious Education is not.”
Notes to Editors
The Catholic schools sector account for a fifth of all GCSE RE entrants and consistently outperform the national average.
10% of the curriculum in Catholic schools is dedicated to the teaching of RE.
The RE curriculum in Catholic schools is stipulated by the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales and is set out in their Religious Education Curriculum Directory.
Religious Education in Catholic schools draws predominantly on the academic discipline of theology, and is essentially a school level version of the theological discipline taught in most universities. In non-denominational school contexts the approach to RE is largely sociological.
Catholic RE is pluralistic and covers the teaching of all the world’s major religions as well as concepts such as atheism and humanism
The Catholic Church has welcomed the Government’s move to improve Relationship Education in primary schools, Relationship and Sex Education secondary schools and Health Education in all schools.
Catholic schools already perform high quality Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) and the Catholic sector is the only one with a model curriculum covering ages 3 -19.
The Catholic Church also welcomed the fact that the Government had used the Catholic model curriculum as examples of best practice.
Catholic education centres around the formation of the whole child, therefore the teaching of healthy relationships is an essential part of this.
Fundamental to Catholic belief is that parents are the primary educators of their children and the Government’s recommendations are clear that the right for parents right of withdrawal will be maintained.
Also welcomed was that schools with a religious character will continue to be able to approach Relationship and Sex Education within the tenants of their own faith.
The Most Rev Malcolm McMahon, Archbishop of Liverpool and Chair of the Catholic Education Service commented:
“Catholic schools already teach high quality and age-appropriate Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) and will continue to do so. Catholic education revolves around the formation of the whole child; RSE is key to this and we welcome the Government’s commitment to improving it in all schools.
“The reason why Catholic schools do RSE well, is because they teach it in full conjunction with parents who are the primary educators of their children. It is good to see that the Department for Education will continue to support parents and teachers to ensure that RSE provision in all schools will be of a high quality.”
Notes to editors
There are more than 2200 Catholic schools in England and Wales
RSE in Catholic schools is faithful to the Church's vision of human wholeness whilst recognising the contemporary context in which we live today. It provides a positive view of human sexuality and dignity of the human person and equips young people with the ability to make practical judgments about the right thing to do in particular circumstances. It is delivered in an age appropriate way and involves parents as they are the primary educators of their child.
The model Catholic curriculum and guidance can be found here: http://www.catholiceducation.org.uk/schools/relationship-sex-education
By Philip Robinson, Religious Education Adviser to the Catholic Education Service
Religious Education is one of the most contentious subjects in education. So much so, a Commission on Religious Education (CoRE) has been created to look at the future of the subject and how it is taught in schools.
Without a doubt there are issues that need addressing, principally that many schools without a religious character are failing to teach any RE whatsoever, despite their statutory obligation to do so. We have also seen recently that the number of pupils taking GCSE RE across all schools has declined.
But how do we fix these problems without breaking the distinctive character of schools which already teach RE well? On top of that, how do we maintain a broad, inclusive, high quality provision of RE without imposing a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach on the variety of contexts in which it is taught?
CoRE is rightly taking evidence from across our commendably pluralistic education landscape and as the second largest provider of education in the country and the single largest entrant of RE GCSE candidates, the Catholic Church is playing a role. And it is important that the Catholic perspective is heard on this, not only because a quarter of all entrants to GCSE RE are from Catholic schools, but because RE is at the core of what our schools are about.
First, it is important to recognise that there are different approaches when delivering RE, each of them have their own benefits and, in different schools could be the preferred method of teaching. That is, there is a pluralism of approaches as well as a pluralism of subject matter.
Religious Education in Catholic schools draws predominantly on the academic discipline of theology, and is essentially a school level version of the theological discipline taught in most universities. In other school contexts the approach to RE is largely sociological.
Theology’s subject matter is God, God’s revelation and humanity’s response to this revelation. It does not require that students believe in God but it does require that they take seriously the commitments of those who do. Theology begins with the presumption that God is real and the purpose of the study is to come to some understanding of the nature and significance of this reality.
Those who take the sociological approach to Religious Education (or Religious Studies as such an approach is called in universities) are methodologically agnostic; they see religion as a human artefact and thus focus on the precepts and practices of different believers.
Whereas this method is interested in the believer, theology is interested in what the believer actually believes, how this influences their behaviour and the legitimacy and coherence of their religious ‘truth claims’. The sociological approach has no interest in questions of this kind.
Moreover, there are those who would claim that because the study of religion and belief in all schools must be objective, critical and pluralistic, the most appropriate method of study is the one that brackets out individual belief and studies religions as purely human phenomena. While not wanting to deny the importance of understanding religions and belief through the lens of the social sciences, eliding out the theological view is to occlude in advance the religious believer’s own self-understanding and to fail to recognise the impossibility of a genuinely neutral standpoint from which to view religion.
But this also does not mean that the theological approach is blinkered to the practices of other world religions nor does it mean Catholic schools don’t teach about other faiths and beliefs. The study of other religions, and the relationship between Christianity and other religions, is an integral part of the Catholic theological tradition. The amount of time Catholic schools dedicate to RE (the minimum requirement the bishops set is 10% of the curriculum) means that pupils in Catholic schools actually get a deeper engagement with other faiths than most pupils at non-denominational schools.
One of the greatest divergences between the sociological and the theological approaches to RE is the way each handles atheism. Whereas theology treats atheism as an important part of challenging the truth claims of religion, the sociological approach merges it into a wider amalgamation of ‘worldviews’, effectively treating it as a non-religious religion.
Whilst this may fit well in the sociological approach, trying to bring together all atheist/agnostic worldviews into a single coherent belief system, raises significant challenges. First, it’s impossible to label everyone who doesn’t subscribe to a religion as part of one specific world view. Secondly, the term ‘worldview’ is so semantically loose, it could widen the subject of RE to the detriment of its academic rigour.
For example, communism, libertarianism, capitalism, nationalism and socialism are just a few non-religious worldviews; should they be taught in RE too? It also seems hugely ironic that the answer to declining religious literacy should be to teach less religion.
Good Religious Education should help students to experience religious belief in both of these senses of ‘looking at’ and ‘looking with’ religion since education is about opening the minds of students to worlds they otherwise could not imagine. Theology and Sociology are both legitimate ways of reading religion, but each presents a conceptually discrete world of understanding the way in which religions have meaning. Both are important. In the future I hope the field of Religious Education is diverse enough that a good student of Religious Education might, in time, become is a first-rate theologian.
Many argue that the purpose of RE is to assist in creating a cohesive and tolerant society. RE plays its part in this, but I would argue this is the responsibility of the whole school, and indeed, the wider community. It may be true that well taught RE leads to greater tolerance, but it is not the raison d’être of the subject, nor the reason why it holds its rightful place at the heart of Catholic schools. Religious Education in Catholic schools is theology. It leads pupils to an in-depth knowledge of their own and other faiths but, more crucially, gives them a critical understanding of what faith itself is.
The Catholic Church has condemned the Clarke and Woodhead report on Religious Education claiming the Catholic community would find their recommendations ‘unacceptable’.
Commenting on today’s report, the Right Reverend Marcus Stock, Bishop of Leeds and lead bishop for Religious Education commented:
“Today’s report by Charles Clarke and Linda Woodhead appears to have little regard to the approach taken by the Catholic Church to the teaching of RE. Not only are their recommendations largely incompatible within our sector, they were compiled with the knowledge that the Catholic community would find them unacceptable; this was explicitly stated in their report.
“The recommendations in the report are unacceptable for two reasons. Firstly, that the State can impose a national RE curriculum, which would dictate what the Church is required to teach in Catholic schools. Secondly, the curriculum they suggest contains no theological content, which is at the core of Catholic RE.
“We accept there is a need to improve RE in all schools and Catholic teachers and academics have been actively contributing to this discussion, producing suggestions that would work within the plurality in our country’s schools sector, allowing for all schools to choose between RE as a theological discipline and Religious Studies as a sociological discipline.
“Catholic schools are the most successful providers of Religious Education in the country. This is because we take it seriously as a rigorous, theological academic subject. However, rather than look at the sector that does it the best they have opted for a reductionist approach which is exclusively sociological and has no consensus amongst RE professionals.”
Notes for Editors
There are more than 2200 Catholic schools in England and Wales
Catholic Religious Education is central to what makes Catholic schools uniquely Catholic. All Catholic schools are required to allocate 10% of all curriculum time to Religious Education.
There are two approaches to the teaching RE, the sociological Religious Studies approach which sees religious as a social construct and the Theological approach which studies the human response to the divine. Catholic schools study the latter.
20% of all entrants to RE GCSE come from the Catholic sector. That’s one tenth of school provision in the country providing a fifth of all the RE GCSE entrants.
Year after year Catholic schools out-perform the national average for RE GCSE by at least three percentage points.
Religious Education in Catholic schools whilst being predominantly theological covers all major world religions as well as the atheist critiques of religion.
By Catherine Bryan, Assistant Director, Catholic Education Service
It isn’t easy being a young person in 2018. What with social media, mobile phones with unlimited access to the internet and the 24-hour celebrity news cycle, young people are faced with challenges even their slightly older contemporaries didn’t have to comprehend.
The question facing the Catholic Church now, is how we respond to and protect our young people from the potentially dangerous effects of these facts of modern life? Do we bury our heads in the sand, or do we tackle the issue head on? We must do the latter.
What’s more, this is an issue that will not go away. The Department for Education and the Welsh Assembly have set a clear direction of travel, that this is an area which is going to receive more attention. Indeed, we have seen recently, a clear commitment to compulsory Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) in Wales and we await the outcome of the DfE’s consultation response to their RSE agenda.
Throughout its long history, the Church, whilst always remaining true to the teachings of Christ, has also adapted its pastoral response to the needs of its flock. Now, in the internet age, it needs to do so especially with regards to Relationship and Sex Education and our Catholic schools are best placed to support parents with this incredibly important task.
For those not involved in education, attention-grabbing headlines about RSE can lead to a false impression of what the subject is actually about. Therefore, we need to set the record straight and debunk the myths around it, because ultimately, in an increasingly dangerous world, RSE is about keeping young people safe.
It is also about teaching young people what a healthy relationship looks like so that as they develop and grow they can make the right choices when faced with a range of challenges. What RSE is not about is pushing a particular agenda or promoting secular attitudes over the teachings of the Church. It is about dealing with the real-life issues young people face and providing practical and compassionate pastoral guidance.
Neither is it all about sex.
Sex education does play a role in preparing young people for adult life but unless it is situated within the broader context of relationship education, it is a fruitless exercise. The model Catholic RSE curriculum recognises this and puts the formation of healthy and loving relationships at its core. This has now been more widely recognised and acknowledged as the national focus has shifted from Sex and Relationship Education to Relationship and Sex Education. A subtle difference, reinforcing the importance of healthy relationships in order to protect young people from potentially dangerous relationships.
People are often surprised when they hear that the Catholic school sector is the only one in the country with a comprehensive and age-appropriate RSE curriculum from 3yrs to 19yrs. The reason for this? Catholic education centres around the formation of the whole child, and teaching a young person how to build and maintain healthy relationships is an essential part of forming rounded individuals.
This is why, when the Government announced last year that it intended to make RSE statutory, the Catholic Education Service (CES) publicly welcomed this commitment to improve the quality and provision of RSE in all schools. And we did so, because Catholic schools already recognise the importance of this and teach high quality RSE as part of the holistic education which seeks to form as well as inform young people in preparation for adult life. We also welcomed it because the Government sought to protect parents’ rights, as well as the ability for Catholic schools to approach RSE within the context of Church teaching.
The CES has a strong relationship with the Department for Education and we have been working closely with them to ensure that any statutory requirements are appropriate for Catholic schools. The first and most important being protection of the right of parents to be able to withdraw their child from sex education. Parents have the primary responsibility of teaching their children how to form loving relationships and Catholic schools are there to assist them with this. Therefore, if a parent feels best placed to deliver some of the more sensitive elements of sex education outside the classroom, they have the right to do so and this is something the Government remains committed to.
The reality is, however, that very few parents choose to do this because the vast majority of Catholic schools closely involve parents with the delivery of their RSE programmes. The most recent Catholic schools census found that just 0.01% of parents with children in a Catholic school exercise their right of withdrawal. Of more than 850,000 pupils in Catholic schools, that is the equivalent of just one pupil in every 7,800.
It is also important to note that schools with a religious character will still be able to teach RSE within the tenants and traditions of their respective faiths. For Catholic schools, this means that we can remain faithful to the Church’s vision of human wholeness, whilst at the same time ensuring that young people are given the factual information and equipped to make informed life choices.
And they need to be able to make informed life choices because of the very real dangers out there. Online grooming, inappropriate social media use, sexting and pornography are all examples or products of unhealthy relationships, and, unless we show children how to recognise the above as dangerous, we are failing them in the long term. This must of course be done in an age appropriate way, but it is something which does need to start early on in a young person’s development.
Our Catholic values are grounded in forgiveness, compassion and mercy. To deny young people an education in this area would be to deny these core values rooted in the Gospel and Church teaching, and leave them unprotected in an increasingly dangerous world. This would be the greatest tragedy of all.