Parliamentary Group on RE publishes report on RE

and Good Community Relations

Religious Education

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Religious Education (APPG on RE) has today published a report, RE and Good Community Relations, looking at the contribution that the subject can make to cohesive schools, cohesive communities and a cohesive society. The report follows several evidence sessions in Parliament. The British Humanist Association (BHA) submitted evidence to the inquiry and has called for an improvement in the way RE addresses this topic.

Writing in his introduction to the report, Stephen Lloyd MP, chair of the APPG, says ‘Good community relations are at the heart of a society where people can live together harmoniously as neighbours, work colleagues and fellow citizens even if they may disagree over some of their fundamental religious beliefs or worldviews… Good RE teaching in schools by properly trained RE teachers is all about educating young people in the different tenets of the world’s religions, and those with none. [sic]’ The report asks as a ‘remaining question’ for further study, ‘How can learning about religions and worldviews be made more interesting and relevant for pupils of “no religion”?’ In addition, the report notes with regret the repeal of Ofsted’s duty to inspect community cohesion, talks about the need to address conflict and extremism. The BHA has welcomed these positive aspects of the report.

The report also endorses Standing Advisory Councils for Religious Education (SACREs) and Agreed Syllabus Conferences (ASCs), saying that they ‘Can provide models of good community collaboration’. The BHA’s own experience is that while SACREs and ASCs certainly may provide good models, on many occasions they prove unable to do so either because of a lack of expertise or because certain reactionary individuals might hold sway at a local level. The BHA would instead advocate replacing the current system of local RE syllabuses with a national curriculum for RE and regrets that the report does not consider this option.

The report also says that it is ‘clear that good RE and the promotion of good community relations take place in a range of schools, including the voluntary aided sector.’ The BHA’s experience is that no voluntary aided religious schools teach about non-religious beliefs in their own right. This is in spite of the fact that the evidence shows that the segregatory nature of these schools can damage community cohesion and so the BHA would expect them to be even keener than community schools to teach about these beliefs.

BHA Education Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘In our submission, we called for RE to include non-religious worldviews – as it usually but not always does in schools with no religious character; to not shy away from addressing controversial issues; and to not pigeonhole people into certain communities or ideologies based on their religion – for example, only 7% of the population supports a complete ban on abortion. We welcome the inclusive language the report uses throughout, that it recognises the need to ensure RE remains relevant to non-religious pupils, and that it addresses conflict and extremism. We regret, however, that some very serious issues – for example, what the law requires of RE syllabuses in religious state schools, and the barrier they present to community cohesion – have not been properly addressed. ’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7324 3072.

Read the report:http://religiouseducationcouncil.org.uk/media/file/APPG_report_RE_and_good_community_re.pdf

Read the BHA’s submission: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/APPG-on-RE-inquiry-into-the-contribution-of-religious-education-to-good-community-relations-comments-from-British-Humanist-Association.pdf

Read more about the BHA’s work on RE: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/school-curriculum/religious-education/

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

The BHA has a long history of work in education, children’s rights and equality, with expertise in the ‘religion or belief’ strand. It has been involved in policy development around RE for over 60 years and was a founder member of the Religious Education Council in 1972. The BHA also provides materials and advice to parents, governors, students, teachers and academics, for example through http://www.humanismforschools.org.uk/ and our school volunteers programme.

BHA members locally are involved in about four-fifths of the Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education (SACREs) in England and Wales, either as full members, co-opted members or observers. The BHA oversees and maintains the network of humanist representatives on SACREs.

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Religious education 'helps communities get along'

Shortages of qualified religious education teachers could harm inter-community relations, a group of MPs and peers says.

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on RE says it can play a role in defeating religious extremism.

The group says the potential for conflict in multi-faith areas is reduced if young people are given classes on different faiths.

But it warns some government policies are "lowering the status" of RE.

The APPG says RE gives children chances to consider religious, and ethical issues from alternative points of view.

It concludes that RE can help pupils become "informed, active citizens" by addressing contentious issues and studying why misconceptions arise about some groups.

'Myths and stereotypes'

The group's chairman, Stephen Lloyd MP, said RE teaching was "more important than ever before".

He said religions were "often portrayed inaccurately" in society at large and teaching RE could break down the prejudice that could develop as a consequence.

"Myths and stereotypes permeate the popular media and have become embedded in the national psyche", he said.

"Schools and colleges are a safe and trusted place to explore religions, conflict and world views in a constructive and positive way.  There are a large number of excellent RE teachers in schools and colleges nationwide who are doing an outstanding job in linking RE back to their communities.  This prepares children for the challenges and opportunities of multicultural life, and helps them live harmoniously with others."

'Lack confidence'

The group has raised concerns about this issue before, highlighting the number of teaching assistants being given responsibility for RE lessons in primary schools, and pointing out that "about half" of primary teachers and trainee teachers "lack confidence in teaching RE".

In a report published last year the APPG said "a range of government policies" - including the introduction of the EBacc and the removal of the RS GCSE Short Courses from the league tables - are "contributing to the lowering of the status of RE in some schools, leading to a reduction in the demand for specialist teachers".

It also said it was "unacceptable" that over 50% of RE teachers at secondary level have "no qualification or appropriate expertise in the subject".

A Department for Education representative said: "Religious education remains a compulsory subject in the national curriculum for children at primary and secondary schools.  We are establishing a specialist subject group formed of religious education experts to identify the challenges facing schools and ensure that teachers have the support and resources they need to deliver high quality RE lessons.  We will also continue to highlight examples of best practice by working with organisations such as the Religious Education Council."

The APPG's report has been welcomed by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL).

The association's general secretary, Mary Bousted, said RE played a vital role in helping young people become "engaged citizens", and that RE teachers were under "immense pressure".

"Schools that give RE a proper place in the school curriculum are providing a safe space for young people to raise and discuss questions about religion and belief," she said, adding "high quality training" for RE teachers was vital.

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