RELIGIOUS education has never been more under threat, the Bishop of Oxford has warned.

The Rt Rev John Pritchard, who chairs the National Society of Church Schools, spoke to the Oxford Mail before taking part in the Westminster Faith Debates in London this week.

He was responding to an in-depth study of 24 schools which showed less money and less time was spent on the subject than any other.

Bishop John said: “RE has never been more needed and never more under threat for a whole lot of reasons.

“The exclusion of the subject from the English Baccalaureate means lots of schools are removing resources out of RE because it’s not part of the ‘gold standard’.

“Another problem is that it isn’t included in the National Curriculum.”

He said RE teacher training places had been reduced from 660 to 400 and warned that, in many cases, too few students meant it was not a viable subject to teach.

Bishop John added: “Academies – and most secondaries will soon be academies – don’t have to teach any subject so it’s entirely up to their governors what they teach. RE could suffer that way as well.

“It’s in a vulnerable position.

“But it is absolutely essential for a young person to understand the modern world, to understand what their neighbours are thinking.” He said that while in this country RE was required to have an emphasis on Christianity, as that was the religion which shaped the nation, good RE teaching covered all faiths as well as addressing questions of ethics and philosophy.

There are 280 church schools in the Diocese of Oxford, which covers Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire, and while he said RE teaching was “in hand” there, most of those schools are primary schools.

Despite diminishing religious education budgets, Bishop John said the number of people taking RE GCSE across the country had jumped from 113,000 to 460,000 in 15 years, making it a very popular subject, but factors were conspiring to threaten that.

He emphasised that RE teaching was not just for Christians.

He said: “It is, if anything, more important for those who have no faith to try and understand what it is that motivates 75 per cent of the world’s population.

“It is a major factor in world politics, economics, relationships and diplo-macy.”

He called for a national review of RE which would see the subject back on a national footing with more resources.