Wednesday, March 26, 2008


At some stage tomorrow, OurKingdom (OpenDemocracy) will publish my piece 'Taking it on faith?', responding to the National Union of Teachers' proposal, as part of its policy on moving toward universal access standards in publicly-funded schools, to trade off an injection of confessionally-based religious instruction for pupils from different faith communities against the continued perpetuation of single-faith schools. In my view this is swapping one problem for another.

My own preference would be for a plural approach (1) recognising spiritual needs (both religious and non-religious) as part of the civic responsibility of schools, (2) replacing the provisions of the 1944 Education act on predominantly Christian RE with curriculum content about understanding the variety of beliefs and life stances shaping society as a whole, and (3) replacing its demand for 'collective worship' with civic assemblies. The basic point, acknowledged in different ways by the Church of England as well as the British Humanist Association, is that it is the job of schools to teach about beliefs and the job of communities of conviction (not just religious ones, incidentally) to propagate them. Confusing these two is a dangerous path from everybody's point of view and dilutes the distinctive roles of different kinds of institutions - one publicly-funded, the other voluntary.

From a Christian point of view, the point is that it is not the job of publicly-funded community-wide schools to 'be Christian' for us or to acting as our recruiting agents. On the other hand, it is a pedagogic responsibility of seats of learning to ensure that pupils go out into the world with an understanding about how religion and belief, as well as culture, social formation, politics, economics and the human and natural sciences, influence the way we think, act and behave.

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