Tag Archives: Secularism

SHOULD WE STILL BE TEACHING RE?

Religious Education is a statutory subject which must be taught in all schools. There are constant calls from those embracing the ideology of a secular state for it to be removed from the curriculum. But the vital question is not ‘Should we be teaching RE?’ but, ‘How should we be teaching RE?’ The Commission for Religious Education, the body which is responsible for advising on legal, education and policy frameworks, is currently seeking answers to that question through a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity to think deeply and broadly about the character, significance and role of religious education in our current local, national and global context’.

The importance of religious education and the compelling case for it to remain statutory is well argued by Charles Clarke and Linda Woodhead in their 2015 document ‘A New Settlement’ They present the case for children to be brought up with an understanding of the historical and social significance of religions, and how they have shaped diverse human behaviours and values. They write persuasively of the need for religious literacy as we navigate a multicultural society in a global context. They want to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach that reduces religion to a sociological phenomenon and they want all schools to follow a common curriculum, regardless of their religious character or ethos. Is that enough?

No, because studying religion as a series of cultural artefacts in order to improve cohesion and global communication is to miss the point altogether. Religions seek to answer the big questions of life: Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live? To deny students the opportunity to consider these questions and to pursue a search for truth is to deny them the path to personal answers.

There is growing pressure from various ideologues for RE to be diluted to the point where it becomes an amalgam of world religions. The result of this approach is people who know a range of facts about religion but have no understanding of individual belief. It is vital that the distinctive nature of each religion is taught: we all believe something and in believing something, we necessarily reject everything else. That is how we develop a personal system of belief and it is an opportunity that high quality RE teaching should provide.

In teaching the distinctive beliefs of each religion, it’s important that Christianity remains the core study. Although we live in a pluralist society, it’s a society founded on Christian values and principles. Many of our great thinkers, scientists and social reformers were motivated by their faith, so Christianity underpins our heritage – it would be quite simple to argue that Christianity is a core British value and as such, should be understood by everyone living in Britain, regardless of their personal worldview.

There are concerns, regularly expressed in the media, about the continued existence of church school RE curricula, which are determined by each diocese, rather than the local authority. Critics argue that church schools are successful because they cherry pick the brightest pupils, even though the evidence clearly shows otherwise. They are successful because their curricula are founded on a Christian worldview which focuses on human flourishing, not on test results. To impose a common RE curriculum on Christian schools is to entirely miss the point – faith is the DNA of each school’s ethos. Diluting RE will not change that, although it will deny pupils the opportunity to understand the Christian faith on which their education is founded and to make up their own minds about what they learn.

The future of RE teaching in our schools is at stake, so it’s important to make your views known. Anyone with an interest in religious education can respond to the call for evidence – simply click on the survey and answer the questions. A list of the questions is also provided so that you can take time to think about your responses in advance. The consultation closes at 9am on Monday morning (13 February) so you don’t have long. But it is vitally important that you log your views and argue the case for religious education to retain Christianity as the core religion for study; for the distinctive theology of each faith to be taught, and for the curriculum to allow time for pupils to evaluate what they hear and to reflect on their personal responses to belief.

THE CASEY REPORT: TAKING RELIGION BACKWARDS

The recently published ‘Casey Review: a review into opportunity and integration’, raises some concerning issues, if you are a person of religious conviction. It’s even more concerning if you’re involved in teaching. Here’s why.

The report lays the blame for segregation and inequality at the door of what Casey describes as ‘less progressive religious communities’ who are ‘taking religion backwards and away from 21st century British values and laws’. You may think that doesn’t apply to you, but read on. Because when she was questioned about her report in an appearance before the Communities and Local Government Select Committee, this is how Louise Casey described those communities:

I do not really have any view on which religion it is that it is promoting those sorts of views, but they are not okay, in the same way that it is not okay for Catholic schools to be homophobic and anti-gay marriage. That is not okay either—it is not how we bring children up in this country. It is often veiled as religious conservatism, and I have a problem with the expression “religious conservatism”, because often it can be anti-equalities.’

Casey talks about the need to challenge or act on behaviours that fall into ‘grey’ areas ‘where one person’s religious conservatism is another’s homophobia’. She calls for an honest debate about these grey areas, although she simultaneously implies that anyone who disagrees with her is wrong, so clearly her mind is already made up about the purpose of any public discourse.

And this isn’t an incident isolated to someone speaking from personal prejudice – it’s a religiously illiterate view that prevails even at ministerial levels of government. This was an exchange that the Archbishop of Canterbury had with a senior politician recently:

Politician: ‘look at our British values, what have you got against the rule of law as a British value? I mean are you seriously going to tell me that I don’t call someone an extremist if they say that their faith is more important than the rule of law?’

ABC: ‘Well, you’ve got a real problem here because for me personally my faith is more important than the rule of law so you’ve got an extremist sitting in here with you…We do not believe as Christians that the rule of law outweighs everything else, we believe that the kingdom of God outweighs everything else.’

If that is what you believe, you are, by definition, an extremist. You are a religious conservative, so according to the Casey review you are anti-equalities. That means that you are breaking the law by adhering to a worldview at variance with secular liberalism. Again, you may not think it is relevant to you, but if you are a Christian teacher, it may soon become very relevant to you personally. You may be required to swear an oath that puts British values and the rule of law above everything else. Communities Secretary Sajid Javid likes Casey’s idea of a public oath and he plans to say more about it when he responds to her report later this spring.

The crux of the issue isn’t about actively promoting wilfully vague British values. It is whether, or not, you believe that the kingdom of God outweighs the rule of law. If you do, how does that inform your response to the liberal social orthodoxy to which everyone is increasingly required to conform?

THE CASEY REPORT: ALARM BELLS FOR HOME EDUCATORS?

Home education is growing in popularity in England and Wales – current estimates suggest that around 40,000 children are home schooled, although only half of that number are known to local authorities. It’s an option favoured by many Christian parents and historically, their right to make this choice has been respected. As long as provision is suitable (and local council inspectors can make an ‘informal enquiry’ to ensure suitability) parents are trusted to educate their children as they wish. But this might all be about to change, following recommendations in the recently published Casey Report.

Article 2 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights states that: ‘In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.’ The right to home educate is further reinforced in the 1996 Education Act which states that: ‘The responsibility for a child’s education rests with their parents/carers’ although provision must be ‘suitable’ and ‘efficient’. The term ‘suitable’ was defined by Mr Justice Woolf in case law in 1985 as being an education that ‘primarily equips a child for life within the community of which he is a member, rather than the way of life in the country as a whole’.

An attempt was made to bring home educators under the firm control of the state in 2009 – it failed then, but the climate is very different now, and secular campaigners have very cleverly woven anti-faith sentiment into the fabric of concern about safeguarding and social cohesion. A new review of local government provision has been ordered and Alan Wood has chosen to consider the role of local authorities in monitoring home education as one of the strands of his investigation. The mantra now is that the state should know where every child is and what they are being taught to ensure that it complies with British values. So the proposal is that all children not in school must be registered and that local authority inspectors should have right of access to the home to interview children without their parents present.

That might seem like a good safeguarding idea on the face of it, but it’s the product of wilfully confused thinking. Illegal, unregistered schools and home education are not the same thing, however much the state might choose to assume that they are. It gives to local authority inspectors powers of entry to your home which are currently only available where criminal activity is suspected – police officers with search warrants or customs and excise officers.

And for Christian parents, that is alarming, given Louise Casey’s definition of religious belief. She says that for those for whom ‘religion is very important in their daily lives … there appear to be some who are keen to take religion backwards and away from 21st Century British values and laws on issues such as gender equality and sexual orientation’. Any Christian who does not embrace the liberal, progressive views of society is, in her view, creating segregation.

Casey recommends not only that home educators should be registered, but that the government ‘should also consider the standards against which home education is judged to be clear that divisive practices are not acceptable in any setting’. In other words, Christian parents who, in their own homes and churches, teach their children that our universe is created by God; that we are designed as male and female, and that marriage is between one man and one woman for life, are harming their children and sowing the seeds of social division.

In her appearance before the Communities and Local Government Select Committee last week, Casey spelt out what she meant by this saying: ‘it is not okay for Catholic schools to be homophobic and anti-gay marriage … it is not how we bring children up in this country. It is often veiled as religious conservatism, and I have a problem with the expression “religious conservatism”, because often it can be anti-equalities.’

Should alarm bells be ringing for Christian home educators? On this evidence I think they should. Liberal, progressive values are sweeping our society like a tidal wave, taking all dissent in its wake. Home educators, Christian schools and churches should take notice – join the liberal, progressive form of religious practice lobbied for by anti-faith groups and so readily espoused by the state, or lose your right to raise and teach your children in accordance with biblical truth.