OfSTED and subject leadership

Deborah Weston

Most recent OfSTED reports:
Making_sense_of_religion.pdf Transforming_religious_education.pdf.

An extract from “Making sense of religion: A report on religious education in schools and the impact of locally agreed syllabuses”

OfSTED June 2007

Leadership and management

  1. The leadership and management of RE have improved, although weaknesses remain in key areas such as the provision of specialist teachers and the quality of some aspects of self-evaluation and monitoring.
  2. In 2004/05, leadership of RE was good or better in 46% of primary schools, and the corresponding figure for management of RE was 43%. This was an improvement on the combined figure for 2001/02 when leadership and management were good or better in 40% of schools. The subject survey inspections in 2006/07 found that leadership and management were good in over half of the schools visited. Ofsted reported in 2005:

    ‘Leadership and management of RE are insufficiently focused on raising standards. Few schools see RE as a priority and too often leadership of the subject is given to inexperienced staff. When this happens, subject leaders are likely to lack the necessary confidence to tackle issues such as assessment and the monitoring of teaching, so that teachers are left to their own devices to plan and teach as they see fit. Where no one can be found to take on the role, headteachers assume responsibility for RE and few of them are in a position to devote much time to the subject.’ See footnote 1

  3. More recent inspections show how effective management has a positive impact on the quality of RE, as in this example:

    The school has introduced a self-evaluation process for RE which involves close scrutiny of standards across school. As a result the RE subject leader has correctly identified that attainment is above average in Key Stage 1, below average in Years 3 and 4 and average in Years 5 and 6. This shows a subtle level of analysis. During implementation of the new agreed syllabus, the coordinator will carry out half-termly scrutinies of pupils’ work and lesson observations to see through the two year cycle of the new scheme of work. The governor linked to RE is well informed about developments in the subject and reports back to the full governing body as required.

  4. In 2004/05, leadership of RE was good or better in 68% of secondary schools; the corresponding figure for management of RE was 59%. This represents an overall improvement on the combined figure in 2001/02 when they were good or better in 59% of schools. The more recent survey inspections in 2006/07 confirmed that leadership and management were good or better in around two thirds of the schools visited.
  5. Many secondary subject leaders manage their departments effectively:

    The head of department provides strong leadership for the department and gives robust support for less experienced staff. She manages the evaluation of their teaching and their training needs well. The department has a strong commitment both to raising standards and promoting the personal development of pupils, although it needs to develop sharper practice in analysing data. The inclusion of all pupils is a particular strength. Pupils with learning difficulties are given good support and the department has produced innovative strategies for developing the potential of gifted pupils. The department has forged good reciprocal links with outside agencies. Speakers are brought in to give pupils first-hand information, and pupils contribute to the work of local charities.

  6. Weaknesses in key aspects of leadership and management are often associated with a lack of support and commitment by the school’s senior leadership, rather than the quality of the subject leadership. Recent developments, notably GCSE short courses, have led some senior leaders to value the subject more highly but in too many schools the subject is still inadequately staffed and resourced.
  7. Small departments, especially those with just one person, face particular difficulties. These can be offset where senior managers link the subject leader with other departments and provide opportunities for relevant professional development. Senior staff can also support RE by managing non-specialist staff carefully when using them is unavoidable. Schools doing this successfully ensure that the number of non-specialists is small and that continuity of experience is provided from year to year. Giving non-specialists a specific year group or module to teach, allowing them to become familiar with a limited section of the curriculum, is particularly effective.
  8. A growing number of schools with a single, specialist RE teacher have trained a permanent group of non-specialists who have extended their own knowledge and understanding to become very effective teachers of RE. They are vital recruits to a subject which suffers serious teacher shortages.
  9. Since 2005, school inspections have increased the emphasis on self-evaluation. See footnote 2 Many schools, especially secondary schools, require departments to conduct annual, written self-evaluations to inform whole-school self-evaluation. This is a new challenge for most RE departments and subject leaders in primary schools. Many base their self-evaluation on Ofsted’s school self-evaluation form.
  10. The quality of self-evaluation has improved significantly. In 2001/02 the processes of monitoring and evaluating RE were good or better in 25% of primary schools and 46% of secondary schools. The most recent subject survey inspections in 2006/07 found self-evaluation in RE to be good in six out of 10 primary schools and seven out of 10 secondary schools. Where this was the case it frequently meant that subject leaders set themselves challenging targets for improvement. As a result, teaching often improved and standards were raised.
  11. The processes in primary schools, while usually informal, often provide accurate and evaluative judgements. Because RE coordinators usually teach across the whole primary curriculum, they tend to have a clearer set of benchmarks against which to evaluate the subject and are more likely than their secondary school colleagues to be open about the need for improvement. Good practice in monitoring and self-review is related closely to implementing the agreed syllabus.
  12. In secondary schools, recent national guidance about self-evaluation in RE has had a positive impact. See footnote 3 Many departments are now producing robust reviews of their provision and, in some cases, provide a model for other departments in their schools.
  13. Securing accurate evidence is often the priority for improving RE. In many secondary schools, the failure to undertake reliable assessment means that weaknesses in the curriculum are not being identified. Many heads of RE departments have not been trained to use data and only a minority of them analyse pupil achievement in terms of gender or ability, or take account of the teaching group. Although self-evaluation should help those responsible for RE to scrutinise and improve provision and outcomes, many subject leaders need support. See footnote 4

The most recent HMCI Annual Report noted that:

Subject departments were increasingly involved in self-evaluation… In some cases, however, departmental self-evaluation was not rigorous enough, nor sufficiently sharply focused on standards and the quality of teaching. In these instances, departments judged their performance to be good when the evidence, including data on pupils’ progress, made it clear that this was not the case.


  1. ‘Religious education in primary schools: school subject report’ in The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools 2004/05 (HMI 2480), The Stationery Office, 2005.
  2. Changes to school inspections were implemented in September 2005 and the new inspections do not report on subjects in the curriculum. To ensure that information is gathered about RE, HMIs inspect the subject in 30 primary and 30 secondary schools each year. Schools receive a letter summarising the inspection findings for RE. Each letter is also copied to the local authority, with a request that it should be forwarded to the SACRE. The letters are available on Ofsted’s website.
  3. Self-evaluation in religious education: a toolkit for subject leaders, Association of Religious Education Inspectors, Advisers and Consultants (AREIAC), 2005.
  4. The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools 2005/06 (HMI 2606), The Stationery Office, 2006.
An extract from “Transforming Religious Education' : A report on Religious education in schools 2006 ̶ 09

An extract from “Transforming Religious Education' : A report on Religious education in schools 2006 ̶ 09

Leadership and management

Primary schools

92. The leadership and management of RE were good or outstanding in just over half the primary schools visited, the same proportion reported in 2007. Only one school was inadequate in this respect. The following features were evident where leadership and management were effective in primary schools.

  • The subject leaders showed a high level of commitment.
  • RE had a high profile in the school and the subject was integrated effectively into a programme to promote pupils’ personal development and well-being.
  • Arrangements to support teachers’ planning and professional development were good.
  • The arrangements for monitoring, self-evaluation, review and action-planning in the subject were effective. In the schools that had clear strategic action-planning for RE, this usually resulted in high quality teaching.
  • Resources for RE were good, with effective use being made of information and communication technology to support learning and teaching.
  • As part of the school’s commitment to community cohesion, RE was used effectively to promote links with local religious communities.
  • Good use was made of the training and support provided by, for example, the local authority and the Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education.

93. Features of leadership and management of RE which were less effective in many of the primary schools visited included:

  • very limited monitoring of the quality of the RE provision which led to weak self-evaluation of the subject
  • narrowly focused development planning which concentrated on completing management tasks such as reviewing the subject policy rather than on improving the quality of provision and raising pupils’ attainment
  • very limited training for staff with little opportunity for the subject leader to support other teachers in planning RE.

94. A particular area of concern was the increasing use of teaching assistants to deliver RE instead of qualified teachers. Around a third of the primary schools visited deployed their teaching assistants in this way for at least part of the RE provision. In most cases, this was seen as a convenient way of releasing class teachers for a lesson a week so that they could complete planning, preparation and assessment. Too often, this had the effect of isolating RE from the rest of the curriculum, limiting the opportunities for sustained and integrated planning and detracting from the quality of the learning. However, where the teaching assistants were very carefully supported, managed and monitored, their enthusiasm and interest in the subject could have a very positive impact on pupils’ learning. This was evident in the following example from a school where the leadership of RE was outstanding. The RE subject coordinator benefited from strong support from the senior leadership team and from the very active involvement of the link governor in developing and reviewing the subject. Good use had been made of training opportunities and support from the local authority. A clear set of priorities for improvement had been established, linked to robust action-planning and well-targeted monitoring. A strength of the process was the clear focus on raising standards and improving the quality of pupils’ learning. The teaching assistants who took a lead in RE in three of the classes were enthusiastic about their work and collaborated closely with the class teachers in preparing lessons. The impact of their involvement was carefully evaluated and thought was given to ensuring that their use did not limit the scope for innovation in the way the subject was developed. Good progress had been made in developing assessment and in ensuring that pupils contributed to evaluating the effectiveness of the provision. A particular strength of the subject leadership was the careful monitoring of the curriculum. It had been recognised that, while the use of the local authority scheme of work had provided a good structure for developing the subject, introducing more innovative thinking about the curriculum was providing opportunities to improve RE further. In some classes, new models of integrated and enquiry-based RE had been introduced, moving beyond the local authority guidance. These had been carefully monitored to evaluate their impact on pupils’ learning.

Secondary schools

95. The leadership and management of RE were good or outstanding in around half the secondary schools visited, compared with two thirds in the previous survey.

96. Non-compliance with statutory requirements continues to be an issue. Around one in 15 of the secondary schools visited during this survey did not meet the statutory requirements to provide for RE for all in accordance with the locally agreed syllabus at Key Stages 3 and 4. Some of the schools had recently tackled a previous failure to meet statutory requirements, often by introducing more effective provision at Key Stage 4. However, in other schools, the provision for RE had deteriorated and statutory requirements were no longer met. Often, this was connected to decisions on staffing or to the introduction of new, integrated courses in Key Stage 3. In schools that faced difficulties in finding subject-specialist teachers, provision for the subject often became non-compliant. Where this was combined with a lack of commitment by senior leaders to resolving the staffing problems, this situation could persist year after year. Some schools were finding it difficult to timetable RE at Key Stage 4 for a small number of students who spent part of their time at local colleges on vocational courses.

97. The previous report on RE recommended that the statutory requirements to provide RE for all students in sixth forms should be reviewed. In the schools with sixth forms visited during this survey, the provision for RE was very variable and rarely met the expectations set out in the locally agreed syllabus. In the best cases, the school incorporated some opportunities for students to explore religious and ethical questions, usually through some form of curriculum enrichment, such as off-timetable days or a general studies programme. In other schools, however, no provision was made for any RE-related learning, apart from the optional opportunities to join extra-curricular religious societies, such as a Christian Union.

98. The features of effective leadership and management of RE in the secondary schools visited included the following:

  • Dynamic leadership at departmental level, demonstrating a drive for improvement and a strong sense of direction.
  • Strong support from the senior leadership team.
  • Specialists working effectively as a team to ensure that all aspects of the work of the department were driven by a shared commitment to high standards and the enrichment of students’ wider personal development.
  • Close links with local subject groups and good use of the support provided in this way.
  • Good use of data to analyse students’ progress and evaluate the provision.
  • Effective monitoring arrangements, including a good contribution from line managers to challenge and support the work of the department, as well as regular feedback from students.
  • Well-focused improvement planning for the subject, based on accurate self-assessment, with a set of clear and appropriate priorities focused on improving provision and raising standards.

99. The impact of effective leadership and management is reflected in the following example: The senior leadership team was committed to ensuring that RE made a positive contribution to the personal development of Key Stage 4 students. The team was reluctant to subsume RE within a programme for personal, social and health education or to make it part of a carousel of subjects because they felt that this might reduce its importance. It was therefore decided to provide a GCSE short course for all, even though there was some concern that this might result in fewer students opting for the full course. A compromise was reached where most students were taught the short course for one hour each week by a team of non-specialists, while RE specialists taught the full course, which included short course units. The school advertised internally for a teacher to lead the short course RE programme, to plan the schemes of work, organise resources and manage the team of teachers. A history teacher with three years’ teaching experience was appointed. He was creative and imaginative, had a good grasp of the importance of beliefs and values in students’ lives and was full of ideas about how the course could be developed. The senior leadership coordinated the selection of teachers from a variety of subjects, who were chosen specifically for the quality of their teaching and their interest in philosophy and ethics. The head of RE contributed extensively to developing the planning. Each non-specialist taught one group. Regular team meetings considered issues as they arose. Teaching and learning were carefully evaluated. Considerable emphasis was placed on gathering the views of the students who recognised the subject’s high profile and contributed enthusiastically. The arrangement provided a significant stimulus for the subject.

100. Weaknesses in leadership and management in the secondary schools were characterised by:

  • very limited use of the locally agreed syllabus to develop, evaluate and review the provision
  • a lack of recent subject-specific professional development and insufficient opportunity for training non-specialists
  • a failure to enlist any external support to help interpret and implement the locally agreed syllabus
  • a lack of proper management of long-term absences of staff
  • little effective monitoring of the subject and no specific action-planning, despite the need for a strategic approach to improvement
  • poor use of data, linked to weak assessment, which often led to significant over-grading of the quality of the provision in the subject, particularly at Key Stage 3.

101. The heavy reliance on non-specialist teachers in RE has been raised frequently in previous reports and remains a matter of concern. However, this survey identified some changes in the way that non-specialists were being deployed. With the development of integrated humanities courses in Key Stage 3, the number of non-specialists who were teaching the subject had increased. In some cases, where good provision had been made for training, this change had enriched rather than weakened the quality of provision for RE. However, in many cases, non-specialists were not given subject-related training and they had a negative impact on students’ progress in RE.