Radical reforms to role of religion and belief in British school system welcomed

December 7, 2015

downloadThe Accord Coalition has endorsed recommendations made about the way religion and belief is currently negotiated in Britain’s state funded school system by a major new Woolf Commission study into role of religion and belief in public life.

Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said ‘This articulates the view of all those who are desperate to ensure that faith schools do not discriminate in their admission policies and that all schools have a broad syllabus covering the range of major belief systems. It is the latest in a series of reports that call for greater inclusivity and highlights the change in public attitudes away from schools that effectively ghettoise children. It is time to state firmly that the role of state-funded schools is to educate, and neither to indoctrinate nor segregate.’

The two year study drew on a series of public hearings and wide array of written submissions of evidence, and has been produced by a broad and distinguished group of national experts, including from the worlds of academia, public policy and inter-faith relations. In a damning verdict about current arrangements in school age education the report finds that:

  • ‘Selection by religion segregates children not only according to different religious heritage but also, frequently and in effect, by ethnicity and socio-economic background.  This undermines equality of opportunity and incentivises parents to be insincere about their religious affiliation and practice.’
  • ‘it is in our view not clear that segregation of young people into faith schools has … not been socially divisive, leading to greater misunderstanding and tension’
  • ‘the content of many [RE] syllabuses is inadequate. They fail to reflect the reality of religion and belief, having a rather sanitised or idealised form of religion as their content … Further, a great many fail to include non-religious worldviews’


In a call to action, the report urges all the Governments across the UK to:

  • ‘recognise the negative practical consequences of selection by religion in schools, and that most religious schools can further their aims without discriminating on grounds of religion in their admissions and employment practices, and require bodies responsible for school admissions and the employment of staff to take measures to reduce such selection’
  • ‘[undertake] A massive recruitment and retraining programme for teachers of education about religion and belief [which] is required if matters of religion and belief are to be treated seriously and deeply in these unprecedented times of religious confusion and tension.’
  • ‘require state inspectorates to be concerned with every aspect of the life of faith schools, including religious elements currently inspected by denominational authorities’
  • ‘repeal requirements for schools to hold acts of collective worship or religious observance and issue new guidelines building on current best practice for inclusive assemblies and times for reflection that draw upon a range of sources, that are appropriate for pupils and staff of all religions and beliefs’
  • ‘[under such changes there would be] no reason for a legal right to withdraw from learning about religion and belief’



The Woolf Commission’s report ‘Living with Difference: community, diversity and the common good’ can be found at https://corablivingwithdifference.files.wordpress.com/2015/12/living-with-difference-community-diversity-and-the-common-good.pdf.

Other recent reports into religion and belief in the curriculum

In November the investigation ‘RE for REal’ by the Faiths and Civil Society Unit at Goldsmith, University of London, called for Religious Education in all state funded schools in England and Wales to become a nationally determined subject that covers the range of beliefs in society. Report available at http://www.gold.ac.uk/faithsunit/reforreal.

It followed a report in June from Professor of sociology of religion, Linda Woodhead, and former Secretary of State for Education, Charles Clarke, titled ‘A New Settlement: Religion and Belief in Schools‘. The report looked at religion and belief across the school curriculum in England and Wales and also urged for Religious Education to become a nationally determined subject for all state maintained schools (covering the broad range of religious and non-religious beliefs in Britain) and for abolishing the requirement for compulsory worship in schools. Report available at http://faithdebates.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/A-New-Settlement-for-Religion-and-Belief-in-schools.pdf.

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