What society do we want to live in? This is the question to which we must always return when it comes to educational policy.
Freedom of expression, respect for the beliefs of others, the spirit of debate, these have long been the pillars of British society. Teach these values explicitly in our schools and right from the start from the earliest years.
We want to train 21st century thinkers – able to understand history, current practice and the nuances of different beliefs. We want skilled cross-cultural navigators ready to cooperate in a global workforce, also able to build meaningful relationships within their communities across faiths.
A good modern and confident religious education delivers on all of these fronts.
BASC defends pest control against legal challenges
BASC Welcomes Revision of Habitat Management Course
At its best, RE introduces our youth to the beliefs and ideas that have been the foundation of human society for thousands of years and continue to do so. Children learn the wonderful stories of different traditions, the fundamental principles of ethics, the debates around free will and the nature of God.
The lesson of RE should become increasingly valuable and practical in schools – a space where young people learn to make their own informed and sensible decisions about fundamental aspects of life. RE can be a comfortable space for discussion of important beliefs and ideas about students’ families, relationships, and society as part of our long and proud heritage of informed debate.
When building a society for the future, the foundations of religious education are one of our first lines of defense against the evils of ignorance, apathy and extremism.
The minister for school standards rightly links the subject to British values and the cohesion of our society.
These comments were given in the context of a question posed about the lack of funding for the topic.
Last year, the government wrongly abolished the training grant for RE. Little or no money has been spent on this important topic over the past five years. This must change.
Adjustments to performance measures have also discouraged schools from providing high quality RE. The GCSE Religious Studies was left out of the English Baccalaureate while the removal of the RE GCSE short course from the list of subjects which earn performance points for a school saw its entries drop by 94%. It is wrong to devalue a vital subject in this holistic way.
Schools across the country continue to break the law by not offering an appropriate RE curriculum. As of last year, only 44% of high schools met the program time threshold for RE.
Together with the Government, Ofsted must do more to ensure that our children do not continue to be let down by this embarrassing statistic.
During my time in various all-party parliamentary groups, I had the privilege of speaking to a cross-section of society who spoke enthusiastically on the subject.
A minority see it as a statutory inconvenience, a valuable niche in the school timetable taken up by ideas which they believe have lost their influence or importance in society.
These views are wrong. Such remarks misunderstand what the subject has to offer and the landscape of belief in Britain and around the world.
They also disagree with the public, two-thirds of whom see the importance of teaching a modern RE curriculum.
The place of religion and belief in Britain is changing and adapting positively, not in decline. Christian values, as well as those taught in the great religions of the world, play an important role in the cultural and historical composition of our country. It is vital that our children connect this learning to the heritage of the country, its future and their place within it.
A national plan? Let me come back to my original question by rephrasing it. What society do we not want to live in? A world where young people are unable to explain both their religious and non-religious beliefs, where our discourse is marked by intolerance and ignorance, the antithesis of the values in Britain that we rightly welcome.
By neglecting religious education, we leave a gaping hole in our school curriculum. This leaves young people unprepared for the ethical, moral and religious debates that shape life in modern Britain and the rest of the world. Simply put, we are missing an opportunity to provide our young people with a set of shared core values and an understanding of interfaith and community that can inform and positively improve the future of our children and our society.