Schools ‘open to abuse by those wishing to blinker their pupils into a single world-view’ writes Accord Chair

October 11, 2013

Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, has written a comment piece in today’s Independent calling for national guidelines for the teaching of Religious Education in schools, to ensure children and young people receive a broad education about the range of beliefs in society. The piece follows on from the publication yesterday of a report by the National Secular Society looking at evangelisation in schools and a damming triennial report released by OFSTED on Sunday (October 6th) looking at Religious Education (RE) in English schools.

OFSTED’s report painted an alarming picture about the provision of RE, concluding that the subject was suffering from low standards, weak teaching and gaps in teacher training, as well reduced support by local authorities responsible for education. It found that recent changes in education policy were having a negative impact. In recent years the Department for Education has excluded RE from its English Baccalaureate performance indicator and review of the National Curriculum, while local councils have reduced their support for the subject because of budgeting constraints and as more schools have assumed responsibility for the RE they provide via becoming Academies.

OFSTED’s recommendations included that the Department for Education should review the statutory arrangements for RE; ensure that its provision is better monitored, particularly in secondary schools, and that central government should work more closely with professional associations for RE. On October 23rd the Religious Education Council (REC) for England and Wales, of which Accord is a member, is set to publish the findings of its eighteen month review into RE. The report will address major issues around the provision of the subject, as well as provide a curriculum framework for RE that parallels documentation for National Curriculum subjects, to help teachers and other local RE curriculum developers sustain high quality RE in schools.

Rabbi Romain’s comment piece is reproduced below:

Schools should be a place to educate, not indoctrinate
Should faith schools be allowed to ghettoise children in the first place?

It is tragic that the image of Religious Education – which can be so beneficial in school – is being hijacked by the faults that occur in the current system.

Part of the problem is that RE is a statutory subject and has to be taught, but it is not part of the National Curriculum and so RE can be taught in any way. It means that while some schools follow a multi-faith syllabus, others limit their pupils to one faith.

This has been exacerbated by the freedoms given to Academy and Free Schools, which can be used creatively but are also open to abuse by those wishing to blinker their pupils into a single world-view.

It would be much healthier to have a National Curriculum for RE, with all schools having to teach all belief-systems (including humanism), providing a balanced, inclusive education.

This would be partly a matter of general knowledge, and partly as preparation for citizenship, so that children are equipped to emerge into a diverse society.

Parents certainly have a right to transmit their religious heritage, but it should not be done via the state but by home life or after-school classes or church, synagogue, mosque and gurdwara. Schools should educate, not indoctrinate.

This begs the question of whether faith schools should be allowed to ghettoise children in the first place – Catholics in one place, Muslims in another, Jews somewhere else.

The big issue is not what sort of educational system is best, but what type of society do we want to produce?

It is not good for children to be like Rapunzel – locked away in her tower – because isolation is a poor teacher for later life, and it is not wise if the next generation grow up disconnected.

In this context, it is fascinating to see what is happening in Northern Ireland, where there is a surge in parents opting for Integrated Schools, where children from all faiths attend and grow up together. We should learn from the Province’s solutions, not emulate its mistakes.

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