CES Director Paul Barber sets the record straight about the recent news on the new RE GCSE

There have been many headlines this week about the teaching of RE in Catholic schools. Many of them have distorted the reality of both the new RE GCSE and what actually goes on in Catholic schools.

Let’s be clear, Catholic schools are not ‘banning’ the teaching of Islam nor are we ‘shunning’ them from our GCSE syllabus. Pupils in Catholic schools will continue learn about Islam and the world’s other main religions and belief systems.

Just because pupils will not be examined on faiths other than Christianity and Judaism, it doesn’t mean to say that the other world religions will not be taught.

The Catholic Bishop’s Conference Religious Education Curriculum Directory, the authoritative document which outlines the teaching of RE in Catholic schools, is clear, a broad understanding of the world’s major religions is crucial to a child’s understanding of their own faith.

In compliance with the local Bishop’s wishes, the vast majority of Catholic schools are currently teaching 100% Catholic Christianity for GCSE RE.

The Bishops have long recognised the need for greater academic rigor in the RE GCSE curriculum which is why they are welcoming the new GCSE and the opportunity to study a second religion. Thus, Judaism was chosen for two primary reasons.

Firstly, we are taking this opportunity to advance the cause of Christian/Jewish relationships, a historic step in building bridges with a community Pope John Paul II referred to as ‘our elder brothers in faith’.

Many of our critics this week have claimed the Bishops’ decision as going directly against Pope Francis’ call for greater tolerance between the faiths. The irony is, by embracing a second religion at GCSE the Bishops are doing precisely what the Pope is calling for.

In fact, we are working with leading figures in the Jewish community to help train our teachers so they can teach Judaism with the same level of expertise that they teach Catholic Christianity. This is an essential part of delivering outstanding RE.

This is exactly the kind of co-operation and mutual understanding that Pope Francis is talking about. Similarly, many Catholic schools have good working relationships with Mosques and Imams who assist in the teaching of Islam at primary and secondary level.

Secondly, we are fully supportive of the new more academically rigorous nature of the RE GCSE, and by teaching Judaism as the second religion, pupils will be able to get a more thorough understanding of Christianity.

Much of the negativity fired at us this week has been down to a misunderstanding about the role of RE in Catholic schools. For us, religious education is at the heart of everything we do. It encompasses at least ten per cent of the schools’ timetables and goes far beyond the ‘compare and contrast’ style of RE you find in other schools.

It is because of this commitment RE, and the importance we place on it, that we’re championing these reforms. To gain a thorough understanding of the more than 2000 years of Catholic theology and culture, the teaching of Judaism is essential. After all, Jesus himself was Jewish.   

Changes to any curriculum, especially RE, can be controversial, however our RE advisors at both a national and diocesan level are providing support to assist teachers with this change.

Whilst it is true that some of our schools have a large proportion of pupils from other faiths (across England, 30% of our pupils are either not Catholic or non-religious) the primary role of a Catholic school is to provide a Catholic Christian education.

Catholic schools are the most ethnically diverse in the country and it is this inclusivity along with the Catholic ethos which makes then so successful in promoting community cohesion.


The President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, has reiterated his support for the Living Wage.

A growing number of Catholic schools already pay the living wage to thousands of teaching assistants, catering and school support staff. The move comes following a joint campaign with UNISON – the public sector union representing low-paid staff in schools.

At a local level many Catholic parishes, schools and charities were involved in the original design and development of the London Living Wage through the community organising group London Citizens.

For Cardinal Nichols and the Bishops of England and Wales, the payment of the Living Wage recognises that fair wages are essential to the common good of our society.

He said: “For more than 100 years the Catholic Church has championed the cause of a just wage so that employees can meet the needs of their families.

“It’s encouraging to see that this has now become a national movement with real momentum behind it. In accordance with Catholic Social Teaching, and as part of its mission to support the poor and vulnerable, the Bishops fully endorse the principle of the Living Wage. As a Church we have given a commitment to work towards implementing the Living Wage for all who work with us. This week I reiterate that commitment.

“A just wage is the basis for creating a fair economic system. We now look to the wider business community, public sector and the Government to play their part in securing a just wage for the lowest paid in our society.”

UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis said: “This is a huge development for the thousands of school staff who have been struggling to make ends meet and a major step towards achieving fair pay in the country.

“The Catholic Church, alongside UNISON and community groups, is the force behind this movement. The bishops are showing real leadership by encouraging businesses and other organisations to follow suit.”

Linda Amos, Business Manager at St Ursula’s Convent School, Greenwich, commented on why they pay the Living Wage.

She said: “Paying the Living Wage shows that we value our staff, and that includes everyone, from the teachers to the support staff to the cleaners.

“The Living Wage has also given job security to many of our support staff, some of whom had to work two jobs prior to being employed by us.

“Paying the Living Wage means we keep people and our staff turn-over is low. Not only is this good for school moral, but also it teaches our young people how ethical employers should behave.

“Also because we have invested in our staff, they have in turn invested in our school with support staff participating in extra-curricular events such as sports day.”


There are now more than 400 Catholic academies up and running in England according to the latest figures released by the Catholic Education Service.

This equates to 37% of Catholic secondary schools and almost a fifth, 18%, of all Catholic schools in England now achieving academy status.

Of the 404 Catholic academies in England, 280 are primary, 124 are secondary. Catholic schools currently account for 10% of the total number of state maintained schools in the country.

The Catholic Church has managed schools in England for more than a century and has been at the forefront of education innovation, pioneering many of the academy models in use today.

The Diocese of Nottingham has been one of the most enthusiastic supporters of academies with more than 60% of its schools now converted.

Nottingham Diocesan Director of Education, Peter Giorgio commented: “Academies provide schools with the autonomy to cater for the educational needs of their pupils.

“What’s more academy status gives Catholic schools greater freedom to develop their commitment to the formation of the whole child.”

Paul Barber, Director of the Catholic Education Service commented: “We are really pleased with the great work Catholic academies are doing up and down the country.

“Academy status can prove really effective for schools allowing them to adapt elements such as the curriculum and the school day to secure the best education for each and every child. 

“However, no two schools are the same so the decision to convert into an academy must be made by the local diocese, in collaboration with parents and the wider community.”


Notes to editors:


The Catholic Church is the largest provider of secondary and second largest provider of primary education in England.

There are currently 2156 Catholic Schools in England educating upwards of 813,000 pupils.

The chair of the Education Select Committee, Neil Carmichael MP, has reiterated his support for Church schools.

Mr Carmichael confirmed his support for faith-based education at a fringe event organised by the Catholic Education Service (CES) in conjunction with the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) at this year’s Conservative Party Conference in Manchester.

The panel also included IEA director, Professor Philip Booth, Schools Week editor Laura McInerney, Daily Telegraph journalist Dr Tim Stanley and CES director Paul Barber.

The panel was unanimous in its support for the continued state funding of Church schools, with many citing the fact that Catholic schools are the most ethnically diverse in England and take higher than the national average of children from the poorest backgrounds.

During the discussion around the subject ‘should the state fund faith schools?’ Mr Carmichael commented on the important role Church schools play in providing parental choice in education.

He said: “Church schools play a big and important role in our wide range of schools.”

Mr Carmichael went on to stress the importance of strong leadership and governance in these schools, especially at the hands of parent and foundation governors.

He added: “It is necessary for Catholics, as well as members of other religions, to understand what they need to cultivate in schools is a culture of strong leadership and governance, and Ofsted has every right to inspect schools on this.”

CES Director, Paul Barber commented: “Our event at this year’s Conservative Party Conference was a great chance for us to promote the fantastic work Catholic schools do and I warmly welcome Mr Carmichael’s comments.

“The panel discussion was really interesting and I’d like to thank all our key speakers for their robust defence of Church schools. I would also like to thank the IEA for co-hosting this event with us.”


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