Children are at risk of becoming ignorant, or even bigoted, if they are not given a decent religious education, taught by good teachers, an education body has warned.
Youngsters should not have to go through life basing their knowledge and understanding of different faiths and cultures on “sources that perpetuate inaccurate and misleading stereotypes”, according to the Religious Education Council of England and Wales.
It is spearheading a campaign aimed at attracting graduates, and those looking to change career, into training as RE teachers.
Figures show that there is a shortage of qualified RE staff in England’s schools, the Council said.
The Council’s chief executive, Rudolf Eliott Lockhart, said: “Without good quality religious education delivered by a qualified RE teacher who provides accurate and balanced information about the array of different worldviews that make up modern Britain, young people are placed at risk.
“Not only are they at risk of ignorance that might lead to misunderstanding or even bigotry but as they go through life they risk basing their knowledge, understanding and opinions on sources that perpetuate inaccurate and misleading stereotypes.
“If and when those prejudices and falsehoods surface in the classroom, well-trained teachers of RE are equipped to challenge and correct them. With information and opinion so freely available on social media and other online sources, pupils need to be taught to differentiate between sources that are reliable and reputable and those that are more likely to lead to religious discrimination and hatred.
“It is clear that in Britain today, we need to develop a better understanding of different faiths and beliefs so that we build more cohesive communities. In a world where religious literacy is now a vital skill in all walks of life, the shortage of qualified RE teachers is a deep concern and needs to be urgently addressed.”
Official figures show that the Government fell short of its target for new entrants to postgraduate initial teacher training courses for RE last year, with 405 people recruited, against a target of 643 (63 per cent).
Ucas figures for teacher training applications record 430 applications for RE in England and Wales as of 15th January (this covers all states of applications, such as those holding offers), compared to 690 at the same point last year.
A Department for Education spokesman said: “There are now a record number of teachers in our schools – 15,500 more than in 2010. Retention rates have been broadly stable for the past 20 years and the teaching profession continues to be an attractive career.
“Religious education remains compulsory at each key stage for all state-funded schools, including academies and free schools, and we expect all schools to fulfil their statutory duties.
“In addition, we have changed the law and the requirements in schools so that they have to actively promote mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.”
Picture: Primary school pupils during a lesson. (Barry Batchelor/PA).