HARD TIMES IN RELIGIOUS EDUCATION
Those who exercise leadership in the subjectinspectors, advisers, specialist teachers and othersneed to develop responses that are not based simply on a determination to persuade critics to accept a supposed consensus that operates as a kind of unofficial orthodoxy. The Muslim rejection of a syllabus which presents religion as 'an anthropological phenomenon divorced from belief in almighty God' would be shared by many other faiths. At the same time, RE ought not to succumb to the lunatic fringe that regards the fire at York Minster as a judgement of God upon a church that condones heresy. The centrality of commitment, the importance of claims to truth and the meaning of phrases like open-minded tolerance have still to be debated with
depth and rigour. What are teachers' expectations of pupil response to the claims of religion? If teachers of RE are, on the one hand, not aiming to bring about faith in pupils nor, on the other hand, are they teaching in order to make children agnostics, what kind of response is expected? The public have long expected RE to keep order in the streets, to keep pupils off sex and drugs and to endorse values and a life-style that society as a whole has abandoned (if it were ever adopted). The public expectations of RE are often quite unrealistic but are a dim recognition of the importance of virtue and a vague expression of a guilt that needs to be removed. Consequently, public institutions including Parliament often declare the overwhelming importance of RE, while failing to will the means to ensure its effectiveness. A recent report from the RE Council quotes more than a dozen statements in five major Government,reports since 1977 declaring the importance of RE . The same report uses published DES statistics to demonstrate that the staffing of RE in schools is already poorer than any other subject in the curriculum. The report describes the many faces of shortage, referring to unfilled vacancies in schools ('the periphery of a gaping hole'.), the worse degree of mismatch between specialist qualifications and subject teaching than any other subject, the overloading of RE staff timetables or above average class sizes, and the underprovision of teaching time.