Catholic Education Service attacks provision of inclusive Religious Education

June 26, 2020

The Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education has urged Catholic education authorities to reconsider their hostility to pluralism in Religious Education (RE), in the interests of boosting mutual understanding between those of different religions and beliefs, and to enable RE to adapt and survive as a subject. Accord has offered its comments in response to a letter sent to the Welsh Government this week by the Catholic Education Service of England and Wales, on behalf of all head teachers at its state funded schools in Wales.

The letter follows proposals by the Government to reform the school curriculum and rename RE as ‘Religion, Values and Ethics’. The Government believes the name change will better reflect the nature of RE, which it believes human rights case law demands should be objective and pluralistic in nature and so ‘reflect the range of different religions, nonreligious philosophical convictions or worldviews which are held by people in Wales and Great Britain.’Despite this, the Government is not proposing to introduce legal measures to require most faith schools to teach about religions and beliefs beyond those held by the school, except to grant parents at these schools the right to have their child instead taught RE along the lines of that provided at non-faith schools. The Catholic Education Service’s organised letter frames the promotion of objective and pluralistic RE as a threat to theological teaching, religious belief and community cohesion, and describes the Government’s plans as ‘impractical and undesirable for today’s Welsh society.’

Chair of the Accord Coalition, the Revd Stephen Terry, said ‘The Welsh Government is unfortunately not proposing new measures to ensure all faith schools teach about religions and beliefs beyond those held by each school. It is therefore extraordinary that the Catholic Education Service should complain about the enhancement of balanced and pluralistic RE within the wider school system. Far from being a threat, such RE is an important way in which to promote acceptance of religious differences, in our increasingly diverse society.’

‘Religious Education must be allowed to reform and adapt, in response to the changing religious landscape. We need only look at worrying developments in England, where the provision of RE in secondary non-faith schools is in free fall, to appreciate the risk of neglecting the subject.’

‘If Catholic education authorities really are threatened by schools teaching about the range of religions and beliefs in society, it brings into question how Catholic schools can be inclusive of the many families who access their schools who are of different religious backgrounds. Objective and pluralistic RE need not threaten what faith schools choose to teach about their own beliefs. We urge the Catholic Education Service to reconsider its confrontational approach, and instead work with those seeking to ensure RE remains relevant and adjusts to the demands of a religiously diverse world.’

Notes
The Welsh Government released its latest plans for RE/ RVE in a consultation document issued last month. The document can be accessed at https://gov.wales/sites/default/files/consultations/2020-05/consultation-document-curriculum-for-wales-religion-values-and-ethics.pdf.

A report conducted by academics at Liverpool Hope University and released in August 2019 found that the proportion of secondary schools in England providing RE at GCSE decreased by 13% between 2017 and 2018, meaning that only 39% of the schools were discovered to provide it. The gap in provision between faith and non-faith schools also widened, with only 30% of non-faith secondaries providing the GCSE, a drop of 18.1% from the previous year. The report can be accessed at https://www.hope.ac.uk/media/news/GCSE%20Religious%20Studies%20Report.pdf.

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