Report by MPs points to damaging effect that EBacc will have on religious education

An influential committee of MPs has joined criticism of the Government’s new English Baccalaureate, saying it risks “shoe-horning” pupils into taking the wrong subjects.

The education select committee said in a report that the exclusion of RE was the most “hotly contested aspect” of the EBacc, but stopped short of criticising it.

It pointed to a survey, conducted by the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education, which found one in three secondary schools planned cuts to RE teaching.

Last week the Government announced that it was standing by its decision to exclude RE from the EBacc despite strong criticism from bishops and MPs and a petition that gained over 100,000 signatures.

Oona Stannard, chief executive and director of the Catholic Education Service of England and Wales, said she welcomed the MPs’ report and its “recognition that the exclusion of RE from the EBacc has undermined its place in the curriculum of many community schools and has led to indirect discrimination against many Catholic schools and other schools with a religious character”.

The report by the select committee said there was “concern that faith schools… are indirectly discriminated against” because of the exclusion of RE.

It quoted a statement by the Church of England Board of Education that said: “Church of England schools, many of which maintain a commitment to full course GCSE RS for all students, are now faced with an impossible choice. Keeping RE as part of the core for all students may well be seen as too risky.

“At the very least there will be extreme pressure on the timetable if RE is to be maintained alongside the acceptable English Baccalaureate subjects.”

Introduced last year, the English Baccalaureate is awarded to all students who achieve GCSE grades above a C grade in English, mathematics, science, a humanities subject and a modern foreign language. Subjects not included are art, music, ICT and religious education.

Since these subjects will not contribute towards the league tables for the EBacc, schools are encouraged to focus on the five core subjects, thus having a negative impact on subjects that are excluded.

The Catholic bishops of England and Wales shared their concern earlier this year. They said: “At a time of increasing religious and cultural illiteracy, effectively to downgrade RE seems unwise to say the least. We therefore urge the government to reconsider its decision and include RE in the EBacc.”