Bushra Nasir portrait

Written by Bushra Nasir CBE DL BSc (Hons.)

Mrs. Bushra Nasir is currently Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Drapers’ Multi- academy Trust (MAT) comprising of 5 schools in London. She line manages the Headteacher of each school and the MAT Executive team. All the schools are now judged at least Good by OFSTED and provide great opportunities for social mobility in an area of high deprivation.

Have you ever been asked about the meaning of life in the classroom? What about the origins of the universe or beliefs about what happens when we die? If you have then you have the same experience as the seven in ten parents who talk about these topics at home with their child. This was the finding from a new survey by Culham St Gabriel’s Trust, which found religion and philosophy was a hot topic at home. It’s unsurprising then that a majority of parents – almost seven in ten, saw value in the religious and worldviews approach to religious education. 

Though the Census reveals that traditional religious affiliation is declining, society isn’t necessarily becoming less religious. Many people still engage with these questions because they are at the heart of what it is to be human. Societies have pondered these questions for thousands of years – and it is our privilege as teachers to continue this tradition and help the next generation explore both religious and non-religious responses to them. The reality is that everyone has a worldview. It is our unique way of understanding, experiencing and responding to the world around us. 

The Census results have emboldened the renewed focus amongst educators on how we teach religion and belief in the classroom. Many of these conversations have been informed by the thinking behind the 2018 Commission on RE report that recommended both religious and non-religious perspectives be taught through a worldviews approach. What the Commission recommends is that the worldviews approach becomes the lens through which these ideas are taught.

What does this mean? To have a worldview is to appreciate the lived experience of religion or belief, and also that this may change over time. A worldview is a way of appreciating the pluralistic and diverse nature of belief in modern Britain. People’s worldviews may be made up of both religious and non-religious ideas. For example, ideas about how people should behave may be rooted in a religious belief, but may also have a moral or ethical perspective.

Research done by the think tank Theos prior to the Census confirmed this understanding of belief. It found that about half (51%) of those who identify as non-religious said they do not believe in God. Whilst the number of atheists is significant in its own right, we should not take ticking ‘non-religious’, in a census survey to imply people do not engage with some of the fundamental issues encountered in both religious and non-religious worldviews. They do so, but increasingly outside of a traditional religious affiliation. 

A religion and worldview curriculum is about engaging with this idea in the classroom. Since the 2018 Commission on RE report, many schools have started to adopt these principles into their curriculum. I’ve witnessed first-hand the advantages. Students find that they have more of a chance to express themselves as well as engaging meaningfully with events they may already be reading about on their phones or in the news outside of school. RE teachers report finding the approach more academic, and a better use of their specialism. Meanwhile, senior school leaders such as myself appreciate the way this academic and knowledge-rich approach to the subject is consolidated and complements learning in English and humanities subjects. 

What should I do if my school isn’t teaching a religion and worldviews curriculum? There are a number of very useful resources which teachers can access through the National Association of Teachers of RE website, to bring the curriculum to their students. However, as someone who is a Champion for RE in schools, I am familiar with some of the poor statistics around the teaching of the subject. More often than not, it’s up to us as senior leaders to ensure there is space for the subject on the timetable. Teaching RE to all pupils is a statutory requirement, and a number of schools ignore this by offering a tokenistic version of the subject. This does young people a disservice and denies them their entitlement to the high quality education in religion and worldviews that they need for life in the modern world. 

At a recent debate in Parliament, I was struck by the number of politicians of all parties who made this precise point. Not only can high-quality RE play a role in helping young people get to grips with their worldview, it is also an important part of developing them as young citizens in modern Britain. MPs praised the subject’s ability to provide young people with skills of critical thinking, debating and empathy for the viewpoints of others as well as an appreciation that beyond Britain, the vast majority of the world still follows one of the major religious traditions. This is the type of young person we want to see leaving our school system – ready for modern Britain and the world beyond. 

Returning to school in 2023, I look forward to the ongoing conversations students are having in their RE lessons about the changing nature of faith and belief in modern Britain. Of course, the subject of the Census has already come up in many RE lessons, and listening to students reflect on what the results mean suggests they are already getting to grips with their own worldview. Indeed, since these discussions, many have become more curious about the place of religion and belief in our society, and it has prompted them to question and explore their own worldviews, as well as those of their peers. RE lessons are contributing to a more positive, curious and intellectually stimulating environment in many schools. I’d like to see every student in every school experience that.