REN at Westminster

28 March 2024

Nearly 70 experts in Religious Education came together at Parliament on the 12th March for a gathering generously hosted by Fiona Bruce MP, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Religion and Belief. Its topic was ‘What does knowledge-rich, high quality religious education look like?’ The speakers addressed both academic issues and practical ones. Guests were drawn from Parliamentarians, academy trusts, universities, SACREs, faith groups, educational organisations and schools.

Following Fiona Bruce’s introduction Richard Coupe, co-ordinator of the Religious Education Network, introduced the purposes of the REN and of the evening ahead. His text may be found here.

First to speak was Dr James Orr of the Theology Department at the University of Cambridge. He made clear that the use of ‘worldview’ was of no interest at degree level, and belonged historically among the Idealist two centuries ago. Fundamentally it referred to a classical phenomenology, and it is therefore a confusion to link it to a critical realist approach to knowledge.

James was followed by Dr Philip Barnes, Emeritus Reader at King’s College London, who set out the inadequacies of the 2018 CoRE Report as a platform for knowledge-rich RE. The full text of his talk may be found here.

Seeta Lakhani then spoke from her Hindu perspective on pupils’ spirituality; Seeta leads the online Hindu Academy resource site for Hinduism and is a broadcaster and writer in her own right. Her talk may be found here.

Dr Michael Nazir-Ali then spoke freely of the religious situation in the world today and the centrality of a sound understanding of religion and religions as essential for young people in today’s global society facing its many challenges. Dr Nazir-Ali has separately published an article along these lines, which may be viewed here.

Following Dr Nazir-Ali, Mr Ron Skelton spoke; he is CEO of Broadway Academy in Birmingham and holds a number of other significant roles in the Birmingham area. He spoke passionately of the need in his multi-faith school for good religious understanding, which, through dialogue and academic study, has produced good religious relations and great debates. Outlining his RE curriculum, with the contribution of his Head of Religious Education, Prahdeep Mann, it soon became clear that a worldviews approach would be insufficiently grounding for the needs of the pupils. To make this point three of his pupils attended, an atheist, a Muslim and a Christian. These young people spoke with passion, eloquence and respect, quite stealing the show! Their contributions to what makes RE great were outstanding. Broadway’s Religious Education is set out at

A Q&A followed, with questions seeking further detail or raising the issue of the recent Fox and Constable judgements for the structure of SACREs and for the curriculum – there was a feeling that the law courts are not the place to settle the content of RE or its structure in case law, and that these had led to further confusion rather than clarity.