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The perfect pupil: changing aims and changing measures of success in school RE

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date2014
JournalBritish Journal of Religious Education
Number of pages16
Early online date9/10/13
Original languageEnglish


In England and Wales religious education (RE) in non-faith schools has gradually changed from Christian education to the study of many religions and philosophies. However, the core values of RE have continued to be related to concerns about social cohesion and the building of shared values. The paper briefly discusses changes in RE since 1944 and then considers attitudes to RE among a group of year 11 pupils (age 15-16) in one large multicultural comprehensive school, collected through questionnaires and group discussions. The subject name had been changed from RE to Religious Studies (RS) in 2004. The focus here is on pupils’ ideas of ‘the perfect RS pupil’; used as a means to access their understandings of the subject’s aims and their teachers’ expectations. The most popular responses were that the ideal pupil would be knowledgeable about religions and be tolerant and empathetic. This is in accord with the current social and political agenda for RE but lays it open to criticism that tolerance becomes an end in itself encouraging indifference to religions rather than a critical, evaluative perspective.