A new All Party Parliamentary Group is going to be forming soon to improve the subject of ‘Religious Education’ with ones of its aims as ensuring ‘every young person experiences a personally inspiring and academically rigorous education in religious and non-religious worldviews.’
Some people are surprised that humanists have such a long involvement in the subject of ‘Religious Education’ in England and Wales but the fact is that they have been involved for many decades working to make the subject more balanced, fair and objective and to ensure that it includes education not just about religious beliefs but about non-religious ones too.
Reasons to support education about religious and non-religious beliefs in schools:
1. Religions and other philosophies and worldviews are an important part of the heritage and culture of humanity and education about them, from the Ancient Greek pantheon to Islam to Confucianism to Humanism, is consequently an important part of a Humanities education.
2. At least a basic knowledge of our fellow citizens’ beliefs is useful for good citizenship because it can help to generate mutual understanding which, other than in schools, may not develop (so, a child of Christian parents can learn about where non-religious people get their values from; a child of humanist parents can learn why their Sikh neighbour wears a turban etc)
3. Learning about the range of different beliefs is a way of ensuring children get their entitlement to learning about a broad range of human views and is a good counter to indoctrination that might occur in the home. One of my friends who is a teacher had a pupil from a very religious background who said to her that the trouble with RE was that it was interesting but made you question things you weren’t really supposed to question. Bingo!
Unfortunately, the subject needs much improvement, as the latest Ofsted report pointed out, and RE remains the subject most taught by non-expert teachers. There are also laws which exempt state-funded religious schools from the general requirement to teach a broader syllabus and allow them to teach a confessional one. It seems unlikely that these problems will be addressed under the current government but maybe in the longer term.
Coincidentally with the news of the new Parliamentary Group, an education researcher called John Tillson has been posting videos of interviews about RE he did with various people a few years ago. It was so long ago I can’t actually remember doing it but here is one with me: