The Purpose of RE in the Curriculum and parental right to withdrawal

The Purpose of RE in the curriculum

RE is for all pupils in all schools, every pupil has a legal entitlement to RE. It is a necessary part of a ‘broad and balanced curriculum’ and must be provided for all registered pupils in state-funded schools in England, including those in the sixth form, unless withdrawn by their parents (or withdrawing themselves if they are aged 18 or over). This requirement does not apply to pupils below compulsory school age (although there are many examples of good practice of RE in nursery classes). Special schools should ensure that every pupil receives RE ‘as far as is practicable’. The ‘basic’ school curriculum includes the National Curriculum, RE, and relationships and sex education.

RE is locally determined, not nationally. It is determined by a locally agreed syllabus recommended by the standing advisory committee for RE (SACRE) for adoption by a local authority. Maintained schools without a religious character must follow the locally agreed syllabus. Voluntary controlled schools with a religious character should follow the locally agreed syllabus unless parents request RE in accordance with the trust deed or religious designation of their school. Voluntary aided schools with a religious character should provide RE in accordance with the trust deed or religious designation of their school unless parents request the locally agreed syllabus. In many of these school types there will be an overarching body, such as a diocese, which can offer support.

RE is compulsory for all pupils in academies and free schools as set out in their funding agreements. This is a contractual responsibility. Academies may use their locally agreed syllabus, a different locally agreed syllabus (with the permission of the SACRE concerned) or may devise their own curriculum.

The law requires all schools to teach about Christianity and other world faiths. These normally include Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism. However, there is enormous diversity 2 within these traditions, and this should be recognised in curriculum planning. The local agreed syllabus (Believing and Belonging) also encourages schools to study other faiths and traditions not included in the six world religions defined in guidance. Schools have discretion in this and should reflect the community and context within which they work.

The syllabus, ‘Believing and Belonging’ states that a school’s curriculum should include systematic teaching of Christianity, Islam and a non-religious approach throughout all key stages, extending to Judaism and Sikhism in KS2 and to Hinduism and Buddhism at KS3. RE has depth and substance when it offers the opportunity to engage with people and places of faith within or outside school.

One of the key roles of RE in schools is to support community cohesion and the development of SMSC and Fundamental British Values. Teachers and schools should take every opportunity to widen the opportunities for all pupils. This could be by:

  • Celebrating a variety of local, national and international festivals e.g. Festivals of light

  • Understanding how different people celebrate both religious and non-religious festivals

  • Charity work including refugee week, children in need, sports relief Remembrance Day

  • Interfaith Week and including diversity of religious belief and faiths e.g. Bahá’í

  • National and international awareness days/ weeks

Parental right to withdrawal

In the UK, parents have the right to withdraw their children from RE on the grounds that they wish to make their own provision. This alternative will be the parents’ responsibility. This right of withdrawal exists for all pupils in all types of school, including schools with and without a religious designation. Students aged 18 or over have the right to withdraw themselves from RE. Parents also have the right to withdraw their child from part of RE and can do so without giving any explanation.