Religious Education in English Schools: Non Statutory Guidance DCSF (2010)


This document offers clear guidance on the planning and delivery of Religious Education to take account of new social imperatives and curriculum change.


The Schools minister, Diana Johnson, in a letter to the chair of the Religious Education Council commends Religious Education in English Schools for its clarity on the importance of RE, its clear and comprehensive account of the legal situation, and its guidance on good practice.

The 46 page guide provides a concise account of the current legal situation and educational potentiality of RE, and supplies a well chosen set of case studies and checklists which will contribute significantly to the way the subject helps students meet the challenges of a changing society. 

There are eight sections.


1. The context.

The new Non-Statutory Guidance stresses the importance of the subject, its unique contribution to pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and the support it can give to community cohesion.

The changes necessitating the new guidance include:

  • New programmes of study (2007) and the new primary programme (2010).
  • The emphasis on developing the emotional and social character, as well as the cognitive abilities, of the child, in Every Child Matters and the Children's Plan.
  • The emergence of new types of school: Academies; Muslim, Sikh and Hindu schools.
  • More cross curriculum developments focussed on identity, cultural diversity and community cohesion.
  • The increased public and media prominence of religion and belief.
  • The moral and religious questions raised by scientific and technological developments.


2. The importance of Religious Education.

The Guidance summarises the contribution of Religious Education as:

  • Provoking challenging questions.
  • Encouraging pupils to examine their own beliefs in a way that builds resilience to extremist beliefs.
  • Teaching respect for others.
  • Prompting consideration of responsibility to selves and others.


It sees the skills and knowledge acquired through the subject to be important in promoting personal development and well being and contributing to Citizenship, PSHE, and education for sustainable development. These skills can also promote community cohesion at four levels: the school, the local community, the UK, and globally.


3. The legal framework.

The section on the legal framework reiterates that all schools must provide Religious Education for all pupils, unless they are withdrawn, and that the key document for determining what is taught is the Agreed Syllabus, unless the school is of a "religious character".

It describes the responsibilities of the Local Authority for establishing a Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE) and ensuring it is representative of the religions in the area. The LA must also convene the Agreed Syllabus Committee to oversee the publication and periodic review of the Agreed Syllabus.

Further detail is supplied on the obligations of all types of school, on inspection, and on complaints procedures.


4. Guidance on providing high quality Religious Education.

This section stresses the importance of partnership between the Local Authority and the SACRE, and offers a self-evaluation tool for SACREs. A series of case studies on collaboration in circumstances of community tension, SACRE membership, and community cohesion provide practical assistance for addressing these issues.  Further guidance is given on achieving appropriate breadth and depth in an Agreed Syllabus, and a nine point checklist is supplied to facilitate effective partnership between the SACRE and the Local Authority.


5. Good practice for Governors and Head Teachers

Governors and Heads are encouraged to show how Religious Education in their school contributes to the five outcomes of Every Child Matters and offered a case study on managing the right to withdrawal.


6. Good practice for people who manage, plan, teach and support Religious Education.

Stating that flexible delivery is possible providing the Agreed Syllabus is covered different models of effective practice are elaborated through case studies.

Among the good practice listed are:

  • Exploring controversial issues.
  • Involvement of people from ‘seldom heard' communities.
  • Encouraging pupils with strong commitments to share their views.
  • Learning outside the classroom through the use of visits and visitors.
  • Theme days.


Noting that the number of pupils gaining qualifications in Religious Studies has quadrupled since 1996 and those taking ‘A' levels has doubled, the Guidance recommends that Agreed Syllabuses require Religious Education to be taught through courses leading to an accredited qualification.


7. Support for Religious Education

 The contribution that can be made to Religious Education by members of religious or belief communities is illustrated by a case study involving a Shia muslim community that offered its Islamic centre as a SACRE venue and hosted visits and provided speakers for local schools as a means of better public understanding of Islam and Muslims. The importance of learning outside the classroom is demonstrated by a further case study of a school working with a local Hindu community to build on the school's work in community cohesion and encourage pupils to learn from other belief traditions while exploring their own beliefs and values.


Significant support for the planning and delivery of the subject is provided by extensive checklists focusing on school ethos, curriculum priorities and patterns of provision, differentiation, transition, monitoring and 14+ study.


8. Further References

Web links are provided to:

Professional Religious Education Associations:

The RE Directory (

The National Association of Teachers of RE. (

The Association of RE Advisors, Inspectors and Consultants (

The Association of University Lecturers in Religion and Education (

The National Association of SACREs (

The RE Council (


Government Agencies:



The Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (

Ofsted (



Religious Education and Collective Worship (Circular 1/94) (

Religious Diversity and Intercultural Education: a reference book for schools (http://book.coeint/?EN/ficheouvrage.php?PAGEID=36&lang=EN&produitaliasid=2191)

The Toledo Guiding Principles on teaching about religions and beliefs in public schools (

Guidance on the duty to promote community cohesion (

Face to Face and Side by Side: A framework for partnership in our multi faith society (

The Non-Statutory National Framework for Religious Education (

Faith in the System (

SACREs and Self-Evaluation - a guide (


There is a further list of relevant government and RE professional websites:

QCDA: Curriculum (

Learning Outside the Classroom (

Community Cohesion (

QCDA: Spiritual and Moral Development (

QCDA: Primary RE (

QCDA: Key Stage 3 RE (

QCDA: Key Stage 4 RE (

RE Online (

RE Today Services (

RE-Net (


The guidance is intended to meet the needs of all those involved in the planning and delivery of Religious Education:

  • Members of Local Authorities, members of SACREs and Agreed Syllabus Committees.
  • School Governors and Head Teachers.
  • Curriculum planners, Teachers and Trainees.
  • ITEproviders.
  • Representatives of religions.
  • RE professionals.


Relevance to ITE

The considerable resources in the report can be used productively in ITE, (particularly for primary ITE students and secondary RE specialists) by combining the 8 sections above into 4 pairs.


Sections 1, The Context, and 2, The Importance of RE, highlight significant changes in curriculum, educational provision and the place of religion and belief in public life, and the resources within RE to make an appropriate response. The material will challenge trainees to think through this new prominence of religion and belief in public life and examine the potentiality of RE to respond.


Sections 3, The Legal Arrangements, and 4, Guidance on providing high quality RE, provide detail on the statutory constraints and obligations as well as the relationship and support structure to local government and community. This will provide trainees a clear account of the mechanisms and the national and local influences shaping the syllabus they will teach, while work with the case studies will inform reflection and debate on issues of breadth and depth and modes of delivery: thematic, systematic, cross curricular.


Sections 5, Good practice for governors and head teachers, and 6, Good practice for managers and teachers. The task included for school managers, showing how RE contributes to the 5 outcomes of Every Child Matters, could be offered to ITE students as an exercise in identifying the contribution of the subject to the broader curriculum, while the case study on ‘the right to withdrawal' could be used to raise questions of freedom of religion and belief. The good practice examples can be used to review experience in placement schools and the case studies on planning and reorganising the curriculum and post-14 RE, provide useful resource material for considering a range of issues on curriculum content and mode of delivery.


Sections 7, Support for RE, and 8, Further references, provide a rich resource base for information and guidance in responding to the challenges raised in the other 6 sections.         


At the core of this report is the acknowledgment of the importance of religion and belief in public life and their significance as factors in human identity. Student attainment is likely to improve where teachers, and so ITE students, understand, acknowledge and affirm important factors of identity - ethnicity, class, language and religion.  Consequently, the Guidance fits centrally within the Multiverse project.


The Guidance differs from earlier guidance, not only in its inclusion of multiple checklists and case studies to assist its implementation but primarily because it endeavours to take account of a number of  educational initiatives and social and cultural changes not envisaged by its predecessors.


As well as of obvious relevance to RE, the Guidance can be seen as significant for the teaching of Refugees and Asylum Seekers. Often religion and belief are important features of the identity of refugees and asylum seekers (their religion and belief may well be key among the reasons for their being refugees or asylum seekers) and so teachers and trainees will be better able to meet their needs if they are aware of the issues of religion and belief involved.


John Hammond, 2010 


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