National Institute for Christian Education Research (NICER)

NICER research drawn on for Ofsted Religious Education Report.


NICER research drawn on for Ofsted Religious Education Report.

Ofsted has just published its Research review of religious education (Published 12 May 2021). in RE pupils enter a vibrant debate about “the religious and non-religious traditions that have shaped Great Britain and the world. RE in primary and secondary schools enables pupils to take their place within a diverse multi-religious and multi-secular society.” Ofsted thinks the best RE is “intellectually challenging and personally enriching. It affords pupils both the opportunity to see the religion and non-religion in the world, and the opportunity to make sense of their own place in that world.”

The report explores literature relating to the field of RE to identify factors that contribute to high-quality school RE curriculums, the teaching of the curriculum, assessment and systems and draws on work by colleagues at Canterbury Christ Church University.

One are of concern is how question structures used in exams can filter through the whole RE system. Work by Professor Bob Bowie has spotlighted how the kind of question preferred in GCSE exams is a debate question style which tends to characterise binary oppositions and winner loser debates. The conversation about religion this creates is one where there is an argument going on. The exams do not, for instance, have question types designed to reveal overlapping areas of agreement between religion, emphasising possible cooperation areas. Professor Bob Bowie has also spotlighted how this turns sacred texts into quotes to me memorised and used in arguments and yet for many people sacred texts are gateways into narratives that offer meaning insights on life, not just proof texts for debates. There are scholarly ways of engaging those texts in classrooms, and Canterbury research (In collaboration with Professor Panjwani from UCL )has shown how teachers are able to draw on those scholarly disciplines in many different kinds of schools, can but fewer and fewer schools engage in sacred texts in this way. High quality RE is an RE that offers insights into ‘how to know‘ not just ‘what to know‘.

Professor Cooling and Professor Lynn Revell have both contributed to insights around the need not to essentials religion into monotone blocks but rather to understand contextualise religious lives and make sure that traditions include diversities of practice.

Professor Bob Bowie and Emeritus Professor Trevor Cooling, have both contributed to work that seeks to make sense of the personal dimension of knowing which the Ofsted Report has noted as important in understanding RE. RE is not just about the institutional organisation of religion, the traditions of different religions as commonly understood, but also the personal aspect of ‘worldview’ how any individual themselves comes to see meaning in life. This is important as it provides an clear space for every pupil, ever person irrespective of religious or non religious worldview.


T Cooling, ‘Worldview in religious education: autobiographical reflections on the commission on religious education in England final report’, in ‘British Journal of Religious Education’, Volume 42, Issue 4, 2020, pages 403 to 414

R A Bowie and R Coles, ‘We reap what we sew: perpetuating biblical illiteracy in new english religious studies exams and the proof text binary question’, in ‘British Journal of Religious Education’, Volume 40, Issue 3, 2018, pages 277 to 287

Worldviews in Religious Education

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