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National Curriculum

Religious education - Programme of learning

Statutory subject with non-statutory content

Learning in this area should include an appropriate balance of focused subject teaching and well-planned opportunities to use, apply and develop knowledge and skills across the whole curriculum.

See related key actions

The programme of learning is made up of:

Curriculum aims

This area of learning contributes to the achievement of the curriculum aims for all young people to become:

  • successful learners who enjoy learning, make progress and achieve
  • confident individuals who are able to live safe, healthy and fulfilling lives
  • responsible citizens who make a positive contribution to society.

Explanatory text


Why this area of learning is important

Religious education provokes challenging questions about the ultimate meaning and purpose of life, beliefs about God, the self and the nature of reality, issues of right and wrong and what it means to be human. It develops children's knowledge and understanding of the nature of religion and belief (i) including Christianity, principal religions, other religious traditions and world views, in the context of a diverse society.

RE offers opportunities for personal reflection and spiritual development. It enables children to flourish individually, within their communities and as citizens in a diverse society and global community. RE has an important role in preparing children for adult life, employment and lifelong learning. It enables them to develop respect for and sensitivity to others, and enables children to challenge prejudice. In these ways it contributes to children's wellbeing and promotes ways in which communities can live and work together.

Explanatory text

Religion and belief: this includes systems of thought that are religious and non-religious; theistic and non-theistic, in the context of a broad and balanced curriculum

1. Essential knowledge

Children should build secure knowledge (i) of the following:

  1. beliefs, teachings and sources
  2. practices and ways of life
  3. forms of expressing meaning (i)
  4. identity, diversity and belonging
  5. meaning, purpose and truth
  6. values and commitments.

Explanatory text

Knowledge: Understanding these concepts is the basis of effective learning in RE

Expressing meaning: People can express a sense of meaning through their big questions about life (e.g. 'where do I come from?'), through their commitment to standards of behaviour (e.g. 'do not steal') and through their beliefs and practices (e.g. the practice of prayer, meditation, religious dancing or singing)

2. Key skills

Explanatory text

Key skills run through all areas of learning and are derived from the personal development framework 'Essentials for learning and life'

These are the skills that children need to learn to make progress:

  1. Identify questions and define enquiries, using a range of methods, media and sources
  2. Carry out and develop enquiries by gathering, comparing, interpreting and analysing a range of information, ideas and viewpoints
  3. Present findings, suggest interpretations, express ideas and feelings and develop arguments
  4. Use empathy, critical thought and reflection to evaluate their learning and how it might apply to their own and others' lives.

3. Cross-curricular studies

This area of learning should provide opportunities for:

  1. children to develop and apply their literacy, numeracy and ICT skills
  2. personal, emotional, spiritual, moral, social and cultural development
  3. enhancing children's understanding of religions and beliefs through making links to other areas of learning and to wider issues of interest and importance.

4. Breadth of learning

Children should be enabled to develop their understanding of the essential knowledge and key skills by drawing on an appropriate balance of religion and belief in the context of the religious and non-religious traditions that form the background and experience of pupils. The religions drawn on should include Christianity (i) in each of the early, middle and later phases. At least two other principal religions (i) should be included during primary education as a whole. To ensure that all children's background and experiences are taken into account, it is recommended that there are opportunities to study other religious traditions such as the Baha'i faith, Jainism, and Zoroastrianism, and secular world views (i), such as humanism, where appropriate. A religious community with a significant local presence (i) could also form a context for learning. Understanding of key ideas can also be promoted through themed studies, experiences of dialogue between and within beliefs, and visits to or encounters with people of a variety of religions and beliefs. Children should learn to use appropriate specialist vocabulary.

Explanatory text

Christianity: Where possible, this should include Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, Free Church (e.g. Methodist or Baptist) and Pentecostal branches of Christianity across the whole primary phase

Principal religions: This should include at least one from Judaism and Islam, and at least one from Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism, across the whole primary phase

Secular world views: Over the primary phase as a whole, children should learn about and learn from both religious and non-religious world views

Local presence: This could include, for example, traditional religions such as those from African countries or China

5. Curriculum progression

The overall breadth of learning should be used when planning curriculum progression. Children should be taught:

Religious education


E1. to explore a range of religious and moral stories and sacred writings, and talk about their meanings

E2. to name and explore a range of celebrations (i), worship and rituals in religions or beliefs, recognising the difference they make to individuals, families and local community

E3. to identify and suggest meanings for religious symbols, using a range of religious and moral words and exploring how they express meaning (i)

E4. to recognise the importance for some people of belonging to a religion or holding special beliefs, in diverse ways, exploring the difference this makes to their lives

E5. to communicate their ideas about what matters most, and what puzzles them most, in relation to spiritual feelings and concepts (i)

E6. to reflect on how spiritual qualities (i) and moral values relate to their own behaviour

Explanatory text

Range of celebrations: Celebrations refer to annual festivals such as Christmas, Easter, Pesach, Id-ul-Fitr or Diwali. Worship usually refers to daily or weekly ceremonies at home or in a sacred building. Rituals can be rites of passage, e.g. those marking birth or growing up; rituals can also be used in the context of worship, e.g. wudu at the start of daily prayers in Islam. Similarities and differences and the impact on daily life can be noted, e.g. believing in compassion may lead people to help others
Express meaning: The expression of a sense of meaning could be explored and responded to through the arts, e.g. in appreciation of religious art or music, or thinking about the position of hands/posture in prayer or meditation
Spiritual feelings and concepts: This could include naming and thinking about experiences such as love, wonder, thankfulness, joy and sadness, or questions such as why we care for people or for things. Such experiences should be linked to related stories, rituals or symbols in a religion or belief
Spiritual qualities: This could include thinking about spiritual qualities such as reverence or openness, and moral qualities such as forgiveness of people who hurt us. Such qualities should be linked to related stories, rituals or symbols in a religion or belief


M1. to explore and discuss some religious and moral stories, sacred writings and sources, placing them in the context of the belief system (i)

M2. to investigate and suggest meanings for celebrations, worship and rituals, thinking about similarities and differences (i)

M3. to describe and interpret how symbols and actions are used to express beliefs (i)

M4. to recognise that people can have different identities, beliefs and practices, and different ways of belonging, expressing their interpretations, ideas and feelings

M5. to reflect on questions of meaning (i) and purpose in life, expressing questions and opinions

M6. to investigate questions of right and wrong in life (i), expressing questions and opinions

Explanatory text

Belief system: Stories and their meanings should be understood as part of the sources of a belief system
Similarities and differences: Thinking about similarities and differences could mean wondering about differences between birth and naming rituals across religions, or about similarities between religious services with different names, such as Mass, Eucharist, Communion and the Lord's Supper. This should include investigation of the importance of these practices and ways of life to believers
Beliefs: Beliefs and ideas can be expressed in many different forms, including art, music, dress, dance, food, artefacts, behaviour codes and social action
Questions of meaning: Questions of meaning and purpose could include wondering about where life comes from, what people hold to be most precious or significant in life, or what happens when people or animals die, and learning about and from beliefs and practices related to these questions
Questions of right and wrong in life: Questions of right and wrong should include thinking about the practices and values arising from religious and non-religious traditions


L1. to describe and discuss some key aspects (i) of the nature of religion and belief

L2. to investigate the significance and impact of religion and belief (i) in some local, national and global communities

L3. to consider the meaning of a range of forms of religious expression (i), identifying why they are important in religious practice and noting links between them

L4. to reflect on the challenges of belonging and commitment both in their own lives and within traditions, recognising how commitment to a religion or personal belief is shown in a variety of ways

L5. to describe and begin to develop arguments about religious and other responses to ultimate and ethical questions (i)

L6. to reflect on ideas of right and wrong and apply their own and others’ responses to them

Explanatory text

Key aspects: Children could describe and discuss the key aspects, including the questions that beliefs ask and answer, their key teachings and sources of authority, and the people, stories and traditions that influence the beliefs and values of followers
Significance and impact of religion and belief: This could include, for example, how giving to charity might be based on a deep sense of the unity of humankind, or on a commitment to follow a divine commandment
Forms of religious expression: Forms of expressing meaning could include, for example, Indian dance, Buddhist meditation, Arab calligraphy or Sikh sewa (service)
Ultimate and ethical questions: Beginning to understand responses to ultimate questions could include discussing and sharing beliefs on issues such as the meaning and value of human life, the existence of God, the causes of suffering or whether there is life after death. There are many such questions that are answered differently by most religious and philosophical traditions. Understanding responses to such questions means recognising that they have no certain answers agreed by all. Children should be encouraged to ask and think about their own and each other's questions, their sources of inspiration and views about truth, as well as exploring the responses of individuals and communities and applying them to their own lives

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