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‘Make Religious Education more relevant to young people’, new report states

In its current form, RE is not stimulating or engaging young people, according to academics

Education about religions and non-religious worldviews is in need of ‘radical change’ to make it ‘more coherent’ and ‘more relevant to young people growing up in the 21st century’, a new report has claimed. Produced by the University of Exeter in collaboration with an ‘expert group’ of academics, teachers, and school inspectors, the report sets out six ‘big ideas’ about how religions and non-religious worldviews are taught in schools. Humanists UK, which is a member of the Religious Education Council for England and Wales, has echoed the report’s calls for a substantial rethink of how the subject is approached.

Seeking to determine what content should be included in Religious Education (RE), how that content should be set out in an age-appropriate and coherent way, and how the subject can be made more engaging for young people, the expert group behind Big Ideas for Religious Education claims that the subject is not adequately preparing students ‘for the spiritual and intellectual challenges of living in a world with diverse religions and beliefs’.

The report therefore recommends rejigging RE in line with six ‘big ideas’, as follows:

Continuity, change and diversity

  • Religions and non-religious worldview involve interconnected patterns of beliefs, practices and values.

Words and beyond

  • People use non-verbal forms of communication such as art, music, drama and dance that seek to explain or illustrate religious or non-religious ideas or experiences.

A good life

  • There may be considerable agreement, and considerable differences, over the interpretation and application of moral principles between members of the same religion or worldview.

Making sense of life’s experiences

  • Many people have deeply felt experiences, which they may refer to as being religious or spiritual or simply part of what it means to be human.

Influence, community, culture and power

  • Religious and non-religious worldviews interact with wider communities and cultures. They affect the way communities have come to identify themselves over time by shaping their traditions, laws, political systems, festivals, values, rituals and the arts.

The big picture

  • Religions and non-religious worldviews provide comprehensive accounts of how and why the world is as it is.

The authors conclude with the hope that ‘this report may encourage others in thinking about how to make our subject challenging, stimulating and relevant for young people growing up in the 21st century.’

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman commented, ‘This is the latest in a string of reports that recognise the need for a substantial change in the way religions and non-religious worldviews are taught in schools. The evidence is clear that many people find that the subject is either irrelevant to them or presents a view of religion and belief out-of-step with what they see in the real world, and RE must change to address this. We hope that the suggestions in this report, along with those made by the Commission on RE, will be taken on board by the Government as they consider the case for reform.’

Big Ideas follows the interim report of the Commission on RE, which is halfway through a two-year review of the legal, policy, and educational framework of RE. The Commission have similarly called for major shake-up of the subject in English schools, including by introducing a new national entitlement to RE applying to all schools, including religious schools, and for a consultation to take place on a change to the subject’s name, so as to better reflect its inclusion of non-religious worldviews and discussion of philosophy and ethics.


For further comment or information please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman on or 0207 324 3078.

Read the full report Big Ideas for Religious Education:

Read Humanists UK’s previous news item ‘Commission on RE calls for major shake-up of subject in English schools’:

Read more about Humanists UK’s work on RE:

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

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