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Most schools break law on religious education

FOUR out of five non-denominational secondary schools are breaking the law by failing to provide religious education for all their pupils, a report published yesterday says.

The Religious Education Council's report, the first survey of all the evidence about RE for a decade, paints a gloomy picture of the subject's plight, and asks whether the Government has deliberately covered up the facts.

A study of 170 recent inspectors' reports shows that 116 out of 135 local authority secondary schools - more than 80 per cent - were failing to provide RE for all pupils, and the position in opted-out schoolswas almost as bad.

'In terms of demonstrating that legal obligations are being taken seriously by making adequate provision, the picture which emerges is alarming,' says the report's author, Dr Brian Gates, the council's deputy chairman and head of the religion and social ethics department at St Martin's College, Lancaster.

Dr Gates, who surveyed all the evidence about RE, uses government statistics to show that pupils aged 14 to 16 spend less time on RE than on any other subject except music - around 30 minutes a week instead of the hour recommended by government advisers on the curriculum. Physical education is given twice as much time.

What is more, a quarter of the limited RE tuition is provided by teachers without relevant academic or professional qualifications. 'RE suffers from more unqualified tuition than any of the national curriculum subjects and, by comparison with most, by a very considerable margin.'

The council wants the Government to consider bursaries for secondary RE teacher training students and more compulsory training in the subject for primary student teachers.

The Department for Education said it did not accept there was a shortage of qualified teachers. A spokeswoman said: 'There are 13,000 qualified RE teachers, though we recognise that about half are not teaching RE. However, it is up to heads and schools to decide how teachers are deployed.'

John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, has asked the chief inspector of schools to investigate why one third of schools are spending fewer hours teaching than the minimum of 21 to 24 recommended by the Government.

Teachers are often required to take subjects they are not specialised in or in which they lack confidence, the Office for Standards in Education said. The inspectors noted a 'modest improvement' in specialist expertise but cautioned against the effects of a recent reduction of in-service training.