Parliament must implement a review of religious education (RE) if it is to be balanced and broad, liberal think-tank the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education has said.
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, chairman of the Accord Coalition, made his comments following a recommendation from Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted, that the Department for Education should reinforce requirements on all schools to provide a broad and balanced curriculum.
Dr Romain said, ‘RE is anomalous — it is mandatory, but not a National Curriculum subject and, unlike other subjects, its standing has remained much the same since the 1988 Education Act.
‘It means that schools have to teach about religion, but not in any particular way and therefore they can limit their pupils’ horizons’.
He said that, since the Act, a broad consensus has developed among professional bodies, religion and belief groups and schools about what RE should provide for pupils.
However, Dr Romain said, ‘Inspectors cannot be in schools all of the time. National guidance on RE teaching would help ensure it is balanced, of a sufficient quality and that children are better prepared for life in our diverse society.
‘RE is currently being reviewed at GCSE and A-Level. A review at earlier stages is long overdue’.
Sir Michael’s proposal had been made in an advice notice to Nicky Morgan MP, the Secretary of State for Education. This had followed Ofsted undertaking 35 school inspections, without notice, during September and October last year.
Some 16 of the schools were inspected because of concerns about the curriculum provided. The Ofsted inspectors found reason for concern about the curriculum in 17 of the 35 schools, and 11 were considered not to be teaching respect for other faith groups, and not developing pupils’ awareness and tolerance of communities different to their own.
Last year, the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (RECEW) created a flexible subject framework for RE. To help continue its work, RECEW has appointed seven patrons for the first time. These come from diverse cultural and professional backgrounds and are to provide commentary and public support for RE in schools.
The seven patrons are: entrepreneur and founder of Cobra Beer, Lord Bilimoria; scientist Professor Joy Carter; recently retired head teacher Kenny Frederick; head teacher Dame Helen Hyde; comedian Sara Pascoe; journalist and broadcaster Lord Singh; and actor, writer and film producer Deepak Verma.
Lord Singh said, ‘RE in schools helps us break down barriers and it is extremely important we pursue it as part of a rounded education.
‘Religion finds itself confined to the margins of society and increasingly viewed with suspicion, yet school-based RE simply explains that the values, teaching and beliefs of religious and non-religious beliefs have a commonality’.
Such seemingly benign official statements must be set against a shared consensus among most taking part in such ‘conversations’ to minimise and reduce the influence of traditional Christian values and beliefs in our educational system.
Picture : Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE