HL Deb 06 July 1994 vol 556 cc1337-52

7.12 p.m.

Lord Elton rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what action they are taking to remedy the shortage of specialist teachers of religious education.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in rising to speak to this Question, I do so in the shadow of what I understood was said by the Secretary of State at the meeting yesterday. That leads me to suppose that it may be necessary to demonstrate that there is in fact a shortage of specialist teachers in religious education. That is easily done by quotation from Religious Education and Collective Worship, a report from the Office of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools, 1992–93.

Your Lordships will forgive me if in the brief time allocated I quote selectively. Clearly I am not going to mention a lot of very creditable things to which credit should nevertheless be given. In relation to visits to primary schools the report shows that in relation to, at least 20 per cent. of schools the teaching of—

religious education, which I shall henceforth call RE— was negligible and in others no RE was taught to some of the classes; in total only 50 per cent of schools provided RE which was satisfactory or better overall; RE was rarely accorded the status within the primary curriculum prescribed in law, and progression and continuity were lacking; a high proportion of teachers lacked the confidence, expertise, enthusiasm and interest to teach the subject effectively; many had volunteered because they valued the contribution of RE to the pupils' moral and social education"—

that at least one can applaud. The report continues: a substantial amount of religious education was characterised by unsatisfactory management, co-ordination and planning; insufficient time allocations; poor resources; and inadequate provision for in-service training which failed to raise the expertise and confidence of staff from a low base line; assessment, recording and reporting procedures were at a very early stage of development and in many cases non-existent".

In secondary schools visits showed that, RE was offered to all pupils in Key Stage 3 [but] Standards of attainment were slightly less good than expected at this stage, largely because of great variations in the knowledge and understanding which pupils brought from their primary schools".

That highlights the crisis—that is perhaps not too strong a word—in the primary schools illustrated by the first extracts which I have read. The summary of the report continues: the vast majority of secondary schools did not provide enough time to teach the agreed syllabus in Key Stage 4 and few provided a basic RE course for post-16 students".

I now refer to specialist teachers, which is the phrase to which I direct my noble friend's attention in this context: specialist teachers were generally effective and were responsible for the good work seen in examination courses. Much teaching of basic RE was in the hands of non-specialists and they were inadequately supported by current documentation in schools and the lack of appropriate INSET support".

That is the situation as reported by Her Majesty's own inspectors in this country in their latest report.

Turning to Wales, and at rather less length, we find that in the report by HMI on a survey of religious education in the core curriculum in the secondary schools of Wales, inspected in the summer term 1993 —which is again the latest report available—it is stated that: In a substantial minority of schools a varying proportion or' the work in the year 7 to 9 is narrow in scope and generally undemanding in nature. In many (though not all) cases, a significant contributory factor"—

again I invite my noble friend's particular attention to this— is the involvement of non-specialist teachers with a small commitment to the teaching of the subject".

The report goes on: Other deficiencies include … in the majority of schools, no religious education provision for pupils in the year 12 to 13".

If further evidence is needed it is more difficult to glean because of the welter of statistics through which one has to wade in the context of other work. But I see that a collation of Table 18 of the 1992 Secondary School Staffing Survey for England and Table 5.8 of the Welsh Education Statistics Bulletin No. 7 shows that, of those who teach religious education in England and Wales, 25 per cent. have a relevant degree, 10 per cent. have only a subsidiary qualification and about 60 per cent. have no formal qualification in the subject whatever.

I draw that to your Lordships' attention in the wake of the publication of the SCAA proposals and recommended syllabuses by the schools curriculum advisory authority. It recommends that Christianity should be taught, together with two or three other religions, before year 11. I ask noble Lords to consider what that represents to an unqualified teacher, faced with delivering those disparate subjects of crucial relationship to each other and of intimate importance to the pupils' view of the world in which they live and of their own journey through this life, and without any formal qualification in the subject at all.

It cannot be said that there is not a dire shortage, whatever may be said to the contrary. If we are told to the contrary, I advise my noble friend and the Secretary of State as they stand on the platform to turn away from the timetable and look at the railway track. They should not look at what the intentions are but at what the product is. Teachers will tell you that these trains are not running much better than they were on Wednesday— that is today in fact.

I can add a little to this in two respects. I do not believe that it is necessary to harangue your Lordships about the importance of religious education, particularly in the light of the long debates which we have had in this House on the subject when passing legislation. But it is a matter of greater importance than almost any other at the stage of life when one comes to weigh up what it has all been about; and that is what we are preparing for.

But does the training matter, or can enthusiasm and conviction carry the day with children of whatever age? I came into teaching in 1960, when it was sufficient to have a degree in order to be able to teach. My degree was in history and I taught it with some satisfaction to myself and, I think, to my pupils—at least they performed pretty well by the standards which my noble friend the Minister endorses. That might have been because they were presented to me through the selective system, which my noble friend would perhaps like to reconstruct—and I would not obstruct her in that. Nevertheless, I came into teaching as a graduate historian and was able to teach history without too much difficulty—with a bit of training from the Army on how to keep order!

I came to religious education teaching because I was required to help out. I did not have the training and my enthusiasm and conviction carried me a certain way, but no further. To this day I lament the opportunities that I missed, the ground that I did not till and the seeds that I did not sow during that time. If one is not confident of one's ability in a subject, no matter how gifted one may be one cannot teach it well because one needs confidence in one's ability in a subject to be able to teach it well, not merely conviction that the subject itself is worth teaching.

Therefore, I believe that it is of great importance that we should have a sufficient number of trained people to teach religious education; that it was of great importance when I was a fledgling teacher and that it is of very much greater importance now because of the infinitely more demanding and complex task which teachers will have to face in the future if the model syllabuses are to be adopted.

There are a number of routes which my noble friend and my right honourable friend could pursue in this respect. The first relates to initial teacher training. They could expand the volume of courses available. No doubt my noble friend will say something about that. I think that it is important to attract students into such courses. That would have a hidden benefit as well as a direct benefit. The direct benefit would be more qualified teachers; the indirect benefit would be more examination classes in religious education in schools. Perhaps I may reassure my noble friend by saying that I am allowed 10 minutes and that I do not propose to use all of them, so there is no need to get excited yet.

The hidden advantage arises because if there are course vacancies leading to a qualification to teach and therefore a job, more schools will lay on courses and examination classes for those subjects. It is having an examination class in a subject which gives that subject status within a school. How much the headmaster or headmistress endorses the subject or the enthusiasm with which it is taught in the classroom does not matter. If the teaching is not going to lead to a CSE, GSE, O-level or A-level—and it is the A-level that is the real magnet—the subject is not regarded as a status subject and will not attract students, pupils or teachers. That would be the additional benefit.

We should also recognise that, once qualified, teachers teach for a heck of a long time—for many years. Therefore, it is no good improving the input because, if in our lifetime we want to see an improvement in the output, we must train teachers in post to teach religious education as a specialist subject. I am referring to those who are prepared to teach it and who are not so qualified at the moment.

With that introduction to show the seriousness of the matter, I hope that my noble friend will allow me to sit down nine minutes after standing up.

7.23 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for tabling this Unstarred Question at such a timely moment. It is timely because, as he pointed out, yesterday saw the launch of the new model syllabuses framed by the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority. That launch was described in the Independent this morning as an historic agreement between the representatives of the faith communities and the professional religious educational bodies. I see that launch as having great significance. I believe that it will greatly raise the profile of religious education.

I should like to express my appreciation of the Government's support for the model syllabuses which was voiced yesterday by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. They represent a wide consensus both among faith communities and profes-sionals in the field. The launch represents a moment of great opportunity. We may couple with it the requirement which Sir Ron Dearing has expressed that 5 per cent. of teaching time should be given to religious education. I should like to express my thanks also to Sir Ron Dearing and to the staff of SCAA for their work in the whole area of RE.

However, we have to contrast—the noble Lord has already done this—the great moment of opportunity which is here now with the past and present situation. I shall not go into the figures which the noble Lord has already given, but I shall underline their significance and point out that the 1992–93 report was preceded by other reports showing an equal disarray in the teaching of religious education in both secondary and primary schools. The points that the noble Lord mentioned echoed those made in earlier reports.

Furthermore, that applies not only to reports from HMI but also to reports from SACRE, which indicate precisely the same situation. In 1992, only three SACREs were reasonably satisfied with the provision of RE specialists in secondary schools. Elsewhere, there was noted a great shortage of RE teachers. And if those two pieces of evidence were not enough, the survey by Culham College indicates exactly the same situation. It is clearly the case that the hopes of the Education Reform Act that religious education would have a substantial place in teaching in our schools is not being fulfilled.

It appears from the reports that religious education as a subject has low esteem and that there is a failure to teach it properly. We hope that the model syllabuses and SCAA's recommendations will lift the situation. Perhaps I may ask the Minister how the Government intend to ensure that SCAA's recommendations, particularly over the percentage of teaching time, will be delivered.

However, delivery depends upon teachers to deliver. I hope that we shall not become further embroiled this evening in the wrangle over whether there is a shortage. I know that the DFE has resisted that. But as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, pointed out, it is clear from the evidence that the subject is not being delivered as it ought to be. That is the question that we have to address. There may be many reasons why teachers flow out of the subject. It may be because RE teachers are promoted more than other teachers. It may be due to the low esteem of the subject, to which I have already referred, or to insufficient in-service opportunities. Perhaps it is due to a combination of all of those, plus other factors. However, there is undoubtedly a problem, and failure to address it will both undermine the Government's intentions and frustrate the hopes of many of us who believe that this is a moment when the profile of RE can be raised.

I should like to reverse the two proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Elton. He began with initial teacher training. I should like to begin with in-service training. It seems to me that that is where an immediate impact might be made. We need a major in-service training initiative to ensure both that non-specialist teachers in secondary schools have further professional training and that training is provided for those who are appointed as co-ordinators in primary schools and for those often enthusiastic but not necessarily qualified teachers who teach in primary schools. I echo what the noble Lord said. Enthusiasm is not enough.

The syllabuses about which we are speaking—I am delighted to see that the Minister is carrying her copy with her—are in two forms. The first puts strong emphasis on the content of belief and the second places the emphasis on entering into the experience of that belief. They both require teachers with more than enthusiasm, and—dare I say it?—more than personal faith. They require teachers with professional equipment. In-service training is the immediate route towards providing that equipment. It is possible that there may be bodies outside the statutory authority which might be able to help. Here I instance the Culham College—

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the right reverend Prelate, but the clock is moving on.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

My Lords, I have noticed, and I shall bring my remarks to an end. Also, ITT provision needs to be addressed in the long term. I underline once again what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, and hope that the Minister can give us some satisfaction in her reply.

7.30 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, we have only a few minutes in which to speak. Even in that short time, I feel that I must say how fortunate we are to have a debate of this kind introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, contributed to by the right reverend Prelate, and wound up by two such strong Christians as the Minister and my noble friend Lord Judd. I do not remember a time when the Government Front Bench and my Front Bench were represented more strongly, in a Christian sense, than they are today. I am glad to be able to pay that tribute to the Minister for various reasons. One reason is that it enables me to pay a tribute to Mr. Patten, otherwise people might suspect me of some sort of Roman Catholic plot. In fact I greatly admire the stand that he is taking over right and wrong. He is unlikely again to call some eminent man a nutter. He chose the wrong man. If he called me a nutter, I should have told him that I had been called that many times without anyone even noticing it. He was unlucky there.

I must testify briefly. I take my stand on the emphasis placed on Christianity as the country's main religion in the 1988 Act. We should never forget the part played by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, who is no doubt entering a danger zone tonight in some far off country. We should never forget the initiative she took, which resulted in Christianity being included for the first time in the 1988 Act.

I hope that I shall not annoy anyone too much here, but I wish to make the strongest possible denunciation of that ludicrous concept "multi-faith". The idea that this is a multi-faith country is frankly absurd. It obviously emanates from humanist quarters, not from the minority religions. We know from the last poll that 3.8 per cent. of the population belongs to a religion other than Christian, and all good luck to them. To say that we are multi-faith because 3.8 per cent. of the people belong to some other religions is totally absurd. I hope that we shall hear no more of that multi-faith nonsense now or ever.

I return to the teaching that is to be supplied. I submit strongly that there is no alternative ethical doctrine which can be introduced to young people in our schools except the Christian doctrine. I assume that Moslems, Jews and others will go to their own schools, but the only ethics available for the schools of the country are Christian ethics. No one will now suggest that school children can be brought up on Plato, desirable though that might be when they reach university, and still less, perhaps, on the teachings of Karl Marx, who I suppose is a bit discredited nowadays, even in Russia.

If there is to be any ethical teaching at all, it should be Christian teaching. Most of us in this country will agree that there has been wonderful material progress. I believe that the redistribution of wealth in favour of the poor is a great advance. But the morals of this country have undoubtedly declined in the past 50 years.. There has been an increase of crime alongside that. We must try to do what we can to ensure that our children are brought up with Christian morals. When I say "Christian morals", I mean among things—only among other things—a belief that sex outside marriage is wrong, fornication is wrong and adultery is wrong, so if they are to be taught any morals at all that should be included in the message.

That is only one part of morals. There is no morality available to the masses of our children other than the Christian morality. I hope and believe that that will be pressed more and more strongly by this Government and a Labour Government represented in the future, I hope, by my noble friend Lord Judd, and perhaps by a very strong Christian like Mr. Blair, but perhaps I should not become involved in that subject. At any rate, there it is. Christianity should be the main message in our schools. I hope that the Government will tell us that this evening.

7.35 p.m.

Lord Addington

My Lords, I must first apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for having missed his first few remarks as I rushed into the Chamber. I am afraid that I do not quite have the knack of ensuring that I am here for these dinner break Unstarred Questions. The Unstarred Question refers to the shortage of teachers. The noble Lord put his finger squarely on the root of the problem which is that for many people religious education is a secondary subject which is tagged on to academic achievement. Schools, for better or worse, are primarily about academic achievement. That is becoming increasingly part of the way the profession is organised.

As the noble Lord so rightly said, unless we give the teachers more status—and from what I have seen of professional teachers he is right when he says that status comes from taking people to exam level—we shall not provide sufficient impetus at all levels of education to ensure that there are sufficient teachers. As for short-term measures to try to address the problem, the Government can look realistically only to some form of in-service training and opt-out for those non-specialists who find themselves having to meet curriculum requirements. If there is no initial interest, we cannot expect teachers to do a decent job without knowledge. Someone may be able to recite a lesson to children, but real teaching begins when the teacher is asked a question and has to answer it intelligently. That means not just the first question, but the second question. Such ability can come only through training. Unless teachers are given that ability through training, they will lose out.

The SCAA recommendations have already been widely praised. They show what religious education should be about. It is a study of the majority faith of the country. I agree that when we say "multi-faith" we should be clear about what we mean. There are strong sections of other faiths in society, but our society is predominantly Christian. A knowledge of Judaism is almost essential to an understanding of the Christian faith. If the subject is being taken through, a study of Islam follows on as all three religions have a common stream and even have historical links.

If we can give that type of teaching and training we shall help solve many of the problems that face our society. I am talking about intolerance, because, once one starts to understand something, one begins to disagree with others as opposed to just denouncing them on the basis of opinion rather than knowledge. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that some positive steps are being taken to encourage better informed teachers to do the job that is necessary, because, without themselves having the information, they cannot impart it to their pupils.

7.37 p.m.

Viscount Brentford

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Elton for introducing this debate at this time. Religious education teachers play an important part, if not the most important part, in trying to improve the teaching of religious education in this country. I assume that the Question deals primarily with secondary schools because specialist RE teachers are secondary school teachers, as my noble friend the Minister told us on 15th February that primary school teachers are generalists not specialists.

I should like first to ask my noble friend if when she replies she can elaborate one thing she said to us on 15th February. She said: It is true, however, that of 13,100 religious education specialists in the country, only half were teaching their own subject".—[Official Report, 15/2/94; col. 92.] Will she elaborate on the reason for that? I believe that the right reverend Prelate touched, as have others, upon the status of RE teachers. Is it just that, or are there other reasons behind the shortage?

It is sad that we are teaching people to be RE specialists but that they are not exercising their skill for the benefit of students today. Is that largely because of animosity against RE? Is it because the subject is being denigrated whether by teachers or generally? The press has dealt a certain amount with the issue and, if it is true, what can Parliament, the Government or anyone else do to change that negative attitude on what is an important subject?

In practice, there appears to be a shortage of religious education specialists. Teachers with no academic or professional training are covering the subject. Do we need to change attitudes in order to obtain the best trained professional people to teach this subject?

What is the attitude to the teaching of RE in colleges of education? I do not believe that colleges of education have been mentioned but they must be an important part of the problem. Is there a positive and encouraging attitude in those colleges to the teaching of RE? Are they teaching that RE must reflect the fact that the religious traditions in this country are in the main Christian, obviously taking account of other religions?

I wish to reiterate what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Earl, Lord Longford: that 80 to 90 per cent. of the population claim a form of Christian adherence and only 3 to 4 per cent. adhere to a non-Christian faith. We should be teaching predominantly the Christian faith, and I take that to be 50 to 75 per cent. Provided that in any three-year period not more than two other religions are being considered, that gives a reasonable balance. RE teachers should be taught about those issues.

There appears to be a difference of view on the value of school-based teacher training as opposed to purely college training. That must depend on the role models which are available in any school where the school-based training is taking place. I have noted the Smallpiece school-based teacher training scheme for technology teachers. There are satisfactory examples relating to school-based training and I hope mat they can be used for the improvement of religious education training.

7.43 p.m.

Lord Ashbourne

My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Elton for giving us this timely opportunity to discuss these important matters. We know that some schools with atheist head teachers are refusing to teach religious education. Many more have a mish-mash approach which submerges Christianity beneath a weight of non-Christian religions. It is important that things are kept in perspective. According to the ninth report of British Social Attitudes, only 3.1 per cent. of the population adhere to a non-Christian faith and 91.8 per cent. say that they were brought up in the Christian faith. Other surveys regularly show an 80 to 90 per cent. allegiance to Christianity.

Young people are leaving schools with a shockingly poor level of knowledge of Christianity. In 1991, a MORI poll found that 57 per cent. of 18 to 24 year-olds could not say what happened on Good Friday and 62 per cent. had never heard of Pontius Pilate. A poll conducted in 1993 by Gallup found that 76 per cent. of 16 to 24 year-olds had never heard of the Ascension, with 71 per cent. not knowing what Palm Sunday commemorates. Barely a majority knew that Judas betrayed Jesus.

Those figures are absolutely appalling. We would not tolerate it if 75 per cent. of school leavers did not know that London is the capital of Britain. Why should we accept such pathetically poor knowledge of the Christian faith?

I believe that the problem is most serious at secondary level. In a recent report, school inspectors found that primary school religious education, focused almost exclusively on Christianity". It is multi-faith approaches in secondary schools which destroy all the good work of the primary school teachers. Yesterday the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority launched what it calls "national model syllabuses for religious education". These proposals represent a betrayal of our nation's Christian heritage. The SCAA proposals advocate that by the age of 11 children should normally study two or three non-Christian faiths in addition to Christianity. That is absolutely ridiculous. Today our young people are not even getting to grips with Christianity, let alone with three non-Christian religions by the age of 11. I was shattered to hear the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon say that he supports the proposals. They are an utter disgrace and the Government and the Church of England should be thoroughly ashamed of them—

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Will he accept that the major problem in relation to teaching in particular in primary schools is not that there is too much teaching of other faiths but that in some schools there is no teaching of religious education?

Lord Ashbourne

My Lords, in a way I agree with the right reverend Prelate, but if more non-Christian religion is taught that is likely to confuse the issue. The primary aim is to give our students a clear knowledge of the basic tenets of the Christian faith. The appalling figures that I have given show that we have not even achieved that. It seems to me that it is a case of first things first and that we must get that right before we start teaching alternative faiths.

The Government should distance themselves from the SCAA model syllabuses. The Church of England should be ashamed of lending its support to an RE scheme which does not even require Christianity to be taught for 50 per cent. of the time.

Anxiety has been raised about the shortage of resources for religious education. In my view, the main issue is one of compliance with the law. Government statistics have shown that 6,500 fully qualified teachers of religious education have been switched to teach other subjects. The Government should address this problem by challenging schools which break the law. Has not the time come to fine schools which fail to teach religious education? Secondary schools are required to teach 11 subjects but some of them are teaching only 10. The question is: what are schools doing with the money that should be spent on religious education teachers?

The demand for RE teachers has been suppressed because head teachers are not giving the subject proper time on the timetable. As the law is enforced more teachers will be needed. Many of the 6,500 teachers could then be switched back to RE. My Lords, I have noted the time and I have almost finished.

I ask the Minister of State to ensure that any money spent on in-service training goes to promoting the implementation of the law and not a multi-faith mish-mash. A clear priority is to develop new ways of training teachers. The existing teacher training colleges have not had a good record. They seem to be very keen on a relativistic approach to religious education where Christianity is given the same attention as other faiths.

Above all, the Government must stand firm on Christianity. All European countries, save France, have religious education which is almost entirely Christian. Britain already has the most multi-faith religious education in Europe, without the new SCAA proposals being adopted. Parliament has given its legislative backing to predominantly Christian RE. It is up to the Government and the Churches to see that the law is implemented.

7.50 p.m.

Lord Judd

My Lords, I am sure that we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for raising this very important subject this evening. As he reminded us, across the road yesterday Sir Ron Dearing and representatives of a cross-section of religious faiths launched the new model syllabuses for religious education. The syllabuses obviously have immense implications in relation to any ability to recruit sufficient teachers of the right quality. We shall now have to see how effective they prove in meeting what potential teachers see as the immense challenges for young people in our multicultural society. I hope that my noble friend will at least accept the word "multicultural".

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I am afraid that I do not.

Lord Judd

My Lords, we are in fact a multicultural society. We must recognise that we have become a multicultural society.

The Earl of Longford

Since when?

Lord Judd

My Lords, with respect to my noble friend, those of us who profess to be Christians must remember that others who are not Christians see us as members of other faiths. It is not logical to assume that members of other faiths are always people who are not Christians because there are people who are not Christians who see Christians as members of faiths different from their own. If we are to meet the challenge of the kind of society in which we live, we must recognise and understand that point.

Religious education is a far more demanding discipline than teaching religion, let alone religious instruction. It requires understanding and insight into a range of faiths. It also needs understanding and recognition of the significant and principal traditions of humanism and rationalism. That does not mean that we have to accept them but we must understand their place in the total order of society.

As the Religious Education Council of England and Wales put it, religious education must play: a vital part in the development not only of individuals but also of the mutual understanding and respect necessary to a harmonious and plural society". Indeed, as the National Council of Hindu Temples expressed the matter: What hope can there be for good community relations without the possibility of mutual understanding generated by good education? We are not in the business of converting pupils to Hinduism but we are concerned that all young people in our society should have some understanding of our ancient tradition and know something of the people who practise that tradition in Britain". As the right reverend Prelate has very properly said, the demands of religious education are certainly far too great for them to be left to the enthusiastic amateur or, indeed, to the press-ganged non-specialist. That is why the statistics are so disturbing.

In support of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, I should like to draw on some statistics which the Department for Education has made available in its Statistical Bulletin 24/93 Teachers' Qualifications and Deployment in Maintained Secondary Schools in England 1992. As I understand it from the department's's own analysis, only 19 per cent. of religious education teachers have a degree in the subject. Overall, 30 per cent. of secondary school teachers have a degree in the subject that they teach; so that is not a good comparison. Only 26 per cent. of religious education teaching was taught by a teacher who had a degree in the subject compared with the average of 29 per cent. for all subjects. A mere estimated 3 per cent. of tuition was in religious education. For 11 to 13 year-olds, 23 per cent. of religious education lessons were taught by a teacher with religious education as a main subject—26 per cent. is the comparison for all subjects—and it occupies 3.7 per cent. of the time. For the last two years of compulsory secondary education, 28 per cent. of religious education lessons were taught by a teacher with religious education of a main subject with 2.5 per cent. of tuition time. None of us can be complacent about statistics like that.

What have been the special barriers to the recruitment of teachers of religious education? I suggest that there have been four barriers. There may be others but four have caught my attention. First, there is a lack of in-service training for religious education. At the launch yesterday whenever that was mentioned there was warm applause from all present. Although the grants for education support and training scheme has a programme covering the basic curriculum which includes religious education, that fund needs urgently to be enlarged.

Secondly, the tendency for religious education to be portrayed by some government spokespeople as virtually synonymous with moral instruction has not helped. It has proved a daunting prospect for potential teachers.

Thirdly, it is arguable—and it has been put to me —that the syllabuses to date have been too prescriptive and have replicated too much the over-prescription in the national curriculum subject orders which are currently under review. We shall have to see what the new syllabuses have done to put that right.

Fourthly, the introduction of the national curriculum has meant inevitably that religious education has been squeezed in schools. Teachers naturally want to feel that their subject has a high status and is recognised by the whole world of education.

In the last few moments at my disposal perhaps I may draw to the attention of the House some ideas that have been put forward on how that could be tackled. Again, I draw on the excellent thinking of the Religious Education Council of England and Wales.

First, it looks at targeted recruitment for initial teacher training: to designate and resource religious education as a "shortage" subject; to target special interest groups—for example, mature students, who are more likely to see the relevance of learning about and from religion; and also to target the principal faith communities. It has also argued for more in-service training; to extend present DFE funding for short courses; to encourage self-help, with clusters of primary and secondary teachers learning from specialists, each other, and from local faith communities. It has also emphasised the importance of changed attitudes to religious education by stressing its educational—I repeat the word "educational"—nature. The new syllabuses about which we heard yesterday are intended to deal with that. In so far as they achieve that, we shall all welcome them.

I conclude with the words of SPCK in 1970, because I believe that they are powerful words. As a professing Christian, I find them reassuring. It said: 'To press for acceptance of a particular faith or belief system is the duty and privilege of the Churches and other similar religious bodies. It is certainly not the task of a teacher in a county school. If the teacher is to press for any conversion, it is conversion from a shallow and unreflective view of life. If [the teacher] is to press for commitment, it is commitment to … that search for meaning, purpose, and value which is open to all". When we have an approach which matches that challenge, we shall have the context in which we can begin to make good the shortages which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is so right to draw to our attention this evening.

7.58 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department for Education (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Elton for initiating this short debate on a subject which I know causes anxiety. But I must say to my noble friend that I am in the most impossible position. I simply cannot reply satisfactorily to the debate in the time that I have been given. Therefore I shall give what I know will be an inadequate reply and perhaps we may be allowed to return to the debate on another occasion.

Lord Elton

My Lords, would it be helpful to the Minister to have a debate on the SCAA proposals in the near future, because they are a matter of great concern?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I should welcome that personally; but the decision about that must rest with the usual channels. I shall do what I can to persuade them to agree to such a debate.

Your Lordships will be well aware of the Government's own commitment to religious education. That reflects a personal conviction on my part, and on the part of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, that religious education, with Christianity at its heart, forms an essential part of the broad and balanced curriculum to which all pupils are entitled.

For too long, religious education has been a neglected subject in many schools. We saw ample evidence of that in the Ofsted's recent report, Religious Education and Collective Worship, which drew largely from inspections in 1992–93. The report made clear that much needs to be done to improve the standing of religious education, and the quality of RE work in schools.

It is a helpful sign that new syllabuses developed in response to the requirements of the Education Reform Act were having a positive effect in some areas; and that teaching by specialist teachers, particularly in examination courses at GCSE and A-level, was generally effective.

What are the Government doing to help secure the improvements that we wish to see? In a few minutes' time I shall deal with the supply of specialist teachers. First, I should like briefly to outline some of the initiatives that have been taken centrally to underline the importance of RE and help schools fully meet their statutory obligations.

The department's circular 1/94, issued in January, gave guidance on the law relating to religious education to all maintained schools. The law requires that religious education must be in accordance with locally agreed syllabuses, that they reflect the main Christian religious traditions of this country but also give attention to the other principal religions represented. The circular also set out clearly and fully the responsibilities of head teachers, governing bodies and, where appropriate, local education authorities to see that religious education, as part of the basic curriculum of schools, is given sufficient time and resources.

Schools, the standing conferences, and others, will have been assisted by the final report of Sir Ron Dearing on the National Curriculum and Assessment published in December 1993. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, did not give voice to that fact. The one thing that Sir Ron Dearing has done is to give religious education equal status with foundation subjects in the national curriculum; in other words, that religious education should receive the same time allocation as other foundation subjects.

Lord Judd

My Lords, I readily acknowledge that fact.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, as I said, the latter gave indicative allocations of curriculum time for each national curriculum subject, plus religious education at each key stage. Sir Ron's allocations for RE amounted to about 5 per cent. of curriculum time.

The allocations have informed the work of slimming down the subjects of the national curriculum, which is now well in hand; and the allocations for religious education have informed development of the national model syllabuses for RE which were launched yesterday by SCAA. Local authorities and standing conferences will no doubt have an eye to Sir Ron's advice in reviewing their own syllabuses. It gives a clear signal to schools that RE must be taken no less seriously than subjects of the national curriculum.

The model syllabuses themselves, launched yester-day, were drawn up by members of the Christian denominations and other faith communities themselves, with the help of teachers. Perhaps I may tell my noble friend Lord Ashbourne—and I have a great deal of sympathy with what he said—that they are not government syllabuses. The role of the Schools Curriculum Assessment Authority has been one of a facilitator. The consensus reached on such an important subject is a considerable achievement; indeed, it was quite an achievement that there was a consensus at all.

The syllabuses are not imposed as a national blueprint, but offered to local syllabus conferences as a possible way of creating a syllabus that is educationally rigorous and conforms with legal requirements, but is flexible enough to respond to local needs.

Ofsted will also play a part in securing improvements in RE through its inspections of schools—which, as noble Lords are aware, will cover every school at least: once every four years. Monitoring the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils, including their religious education, is one of Ofsted's central statutory inspection duties. Each inspection report will comment on the quality of the school's provision in that area and, if necessary, identify action which must be taken by the governing body to remedy deficiencies. I was encouraged to hear that the Ofsted report was discussed at some length by the heads of grant-maintained schools at their conference last week, with contributions from my noble friend Lady Cox and Her Majesty's Inspectorate.

In Wales, I understand that all local education authorities have now reviewed their locally agreed syllabuses, but will be able to make use of the models launched recently if they wish. In Scotland, national guidelines for religious and moral education were issued in 1992 and HMI in Scotland has published recently recommendations for improving RE teaching. In Northern Ireland, a core syllabus to Key Stage 3 was introduced last September, and one to Key Stage 4 is due to be introduced in 1995.

That brings me to the principal point of my noble friend Lord Elton; namely, that schools cannot be expected to provide religious education properly without an adequate supply of specialist RE teachers. It is a point with which Ministers are very conversant. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State discussed this and other matters a few weeks ago with the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Ripon, following his appointment as chairman of the Church of England Board of Education. The right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Guildford, has raised the matter more than once. The Religious Education Council and the Reverend Dr. Gay, Director of Culham College Institute, have been corresponding with my right honourable friend; and we have seen the most recent report of Dr. Brian Gates for the Religious Education Council.

The Government seek to ensure that there is an adequate supply of qualified teachers so that the national curriculum, RE and other educational requirements are delivered effectively. In general, the present position is satisfactory, with teacher numbers increasing, vacancies at very low levels and recruitment to initial teacher training at historically high levels. But teacher supply is a complex question, requiring consideration of pupil projections, the qualifications and deployment of teachers in service, age and wastage profiles, recruitment to initial teacher training, the resources available for training and recruiting teachers, and other factors. It is important, when resources are finite and there is competition for good candidates from other employers, that the fullest use is made of the teaching skills and qualifications already available to schools. The attitude taken by heads of schools is absolutely critical in such affairs. If the head of a school gives priority to the subject, there is a will to make it happen. Where there is a will to make it happen, it happens.

In 1992 there were more than 15,000 full-time and part-time teachers in English secondary schools with post-A level qualifications in RE. More than 13,000 were full-time teachers, and two-thirds of them had religious education as a main qualification. But only about half of those 13,000 teachers were teaching RE. The number of those qualified in RE but not teaching it was very similar to the number teaching RE with no post-A level qualification. That, at least, is a question that we should ponder.

There is some mismatch of that kind between teachers' qualifications and the subjects that they teach for all the main subjects. In 1992, teachers lacking a formal qualification in RE were responsible for a minor but not insignificant share of secondary RE tuition— some 25 per cent. Some of those teachers compensate for their lack of qualifications by in-service training, experience gained from other employment or expertise developed over what may be many years' teaching of the subject. Those credentials may serve very well. It is clear from the Ofsted report, however, that that is by no means universally true.

We believe that the problems with RE staffing must be dealt with on three fronts. First, schools must, as part of their responsibilities for delivering religious education, identify deficiencies in the skills and expertise of their existing RE teachers. They must address them through in-service training, staff development courses or in-school support. The Ofsted report pointed out the importance of such action and also that practical support must come from the school's RE co-ordinator and head teacher.

The department has made substantial resources available through the grants for education support and training programme to support the national curriculum and religious education. In 1994–95, this includes grant support for £79.3 million of expenditure on books, equipment and training, according to priorities determined by individual schools. Local education authorities may also retain a proportion for training relating specifically to the introduction in schools of new RE syllabuses. GEST also supports £17 million of expenditure on courses to enhance primary teachers' subject knowledge and includes RE for the first time in 1994–95. I hope that, in considering staff development needs, schools will give RE the priority that it deserves to enable teachers to benefit from that support.

The other main actions are for the department and in due course, subject to the passage of the Education Bill, the new Teacher Training Agency. I can give all the assurances that the subject under debate will be taken very seriously. The right reverend Prelate asked how that would be delivered. Perhaps I may say, first, that my right honourable friend has no locus in the matter. The 1988 Act does not specify proportions of time but there is a very strong recommendation that it should be given equal status with other subjects in the curriculum. The Government have no locus for dealing with the detailed content, unlike the national curriculum.

The position in our circular 1/94 is clear. I refer noble Lords to paragraph 35 thereof. It states quite unequivocally that, As a whole, and at each key stage, the relative content devoted to Christianity in the syllabus should predominate". I value this debate for it has provided evidence that the Government's anxiety that RE in schools should be improved is shared in this House and, I know, more widely. I repeat that religious education in schools is taken very seriously by the Government. Education without a moral and spiritual dimension is, as I have said a number of times before, no more than a clinical and arid experience. The key to successful religious education in schools will be the quality of teaching and the quality of learning. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is determined to address these issues.