Through an empirical investigation, the recent publication of the Religious Education Teachers and Character report contributes to two ongoing debates in the academic literature surrounding RE. The first of these debates is whether subject material in RE should be morally neutral, and the second is whether RE teachers themselves should strive to be neutral or impartial in the classroom.
The Religious Education Teachers and Character report found that 97.7% of RE teachers agree or strongly agree that RE contributes to pupils’ character development, and that 94.5% agree or strongly agree that RE teachers should model good character to their pupils. As the RE teachers overwhelmingly agree that their work contributes to pupils’ character development and think that they should model good character, it would suggest that RE teachers would concur with the idea that the subject is not morally neutral.
Regarding the second debate, the report details that RE teachers’ worldviews support a particular vision for RE and provide an underlying motivation for the subject. This is illustrated in the report by Richard, an atheist with a passion for issues of social justice, who believes it is important to help further generations reflect and think deeply about moral and political issues. Similarly, Kirsty, an Anglican working in a Church of England school, emphasises that her Christian faith inspires and gives meaning to her work as an RE teacher.
As the study did not find any evidence of teachers being unreflective or pushing their own worldviews onto pupils, this finding would also suggest that the model of a neutral or impartial RE teacher may have implications on their motivation and is actually a model which may not be beneficial at all.
These findings are reminiscent of words from Benjamin Disraeli, who once stated RE teachers will ‘exercise an extraordinary influence upon the history of England and upon the conduct of Englishmen’ (HC Deb. 16 June 1870). The absence of any evidence of unreflective or unthoughtful RE teachers in the RE report suggests, like Disraeli, RE teachers also recognise the ‘extraordinary influence’ they hold in their unique professional roles.
To discover more about our research findings, please see the Religious Education Teachers and Character report. Though we are not conducting further research for the Religious Education Teacher and Character project at this time, we wish to thank everyone who made this study possible through participating. For any queries, please email Jason Metcalfe (J.M.Metcalfe@Bham.ac.uk).
‘Jason Metcalfe is a Research Associate on the Religious Teachers and Character project