Chris Whitehouse is Chairman of The Whitehouse Consultancy, and a Papal Knight.
Michael Gove and his team are about to reform Religious Studies GCSE and A-Level as part of the “second wave” of the wider review of qualifications currently underway, so it is odd that until now officials dealing with the project have not properly engaged with the Catholic Church, which provides 10 per cent of secondary schools and 25 per cent of the relevant GCSE examination entries.
The approach adopted until now of consulting almost exclusively with the relevant subject associations risked ignoring the knowledge and interest that this unique stakeholder brings to the table, and risks the development of Subject Content and Assessment Objectives for these examinations being distorted by those who want to see a more secular Religious Studies rather than Religious Education as is the approach in Catholic schools.
It matters not quite how that situation had arisen, because, thankfully, after some pressure to open the door, the department has now agreed to a first substantive meeting on this subject (today) with the Catholic Education Service (CES) which represents the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales. It is vital that this meeting is the start of a proper dialogue and signals an intention by officials fully to involve the CES at all stages of the future process with equal status to the Religious Education Council.
The Catholic Church and Gove should be natural allies on this. The Catholic Bishops, through the CES, share his ambition to have greater rigour in Religious Studies GCSE and want to be part of the core group that sets the shape of this important examination for generations to come, not least because this will help secure a higher quality education in Catholic theology for Catholic students.
Above all, and so obvious it beggars belief that it needs to be said (though it does), we need to see an unambiguous statement written into the new subject criteria document which requires the content of religion specific papers and content produced by exam boards to be approved by the official body of that religion. This would prevent exam boards producing Catholic (or any other religious papers) that are deficient, inaccurate or unacceptable to the religion they purport to be testing.