Defence of the Government’s new RE guidelines

by
24 February 2010

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From the Revd Dr John Gay
Sir, — The City of Birmingham (Letters, 12 February) is one of the largest and most multi-religious local authorities in the country. It has an excellent reputation for taking religious education seriously, and for resourcing it accordingly.

Birmingham University has a good theology and religious-studies de­part­ment, and also an education de­partment in which pioneering research and development work in RE has been undertaken. The Selly Oak Colleges have been an additional benefit.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of other local authorities do not have similar advantages. OFSTED’s last long report on RE observed that the quality of local syllabuses is so varied that pupil learning in RE is being compromised by many of them, and so it questioned the continuing edu­ca­tional value of local determination.

While it may work for Birming­ham, the very atypical context of Birmingham means that it is not an effective model for the future. Unintentionally, the letter from the Bishop of Birmingham (12 February) provides a convincing argument for a more national focus for RE.
JOHN GAY
Director
Culham Institute
15 Norham Gardens
Oxford OX2 6PY

From Professor Brian Gates
Sir, — Many who share a concern for RE were responsible for the production of the new guidance in the national consultation last year: the faith-community organisations and RE professional and academic associations that make up the RE Council, and individuals in the Steering Group and the writing team.

The Local Government Association was represented on the Steering Group. The voice of the SACREs was heard throughout, as were those of the Churches and other faith communities. Before the first meetings, the Government made it clear that there would be no change in primary legislation.

It is true that there was contention over how far humanism and secular beliefs could or should be affirmed in relation to SACRE membership or inclusion in the RE curriculum. But decisions about curriculum content, as about who is invited to serve on a SACRE, remain a local prerogative. Some local authorities take a different view from the one that prevails in Birmingham.

The phrase “religions and beliefs” is in currency because of its use in discourse on human rights and in the agreements of the European Council of Ministers. Legal advice on the interpretation of English law in this changed context did need to be sought. Opinion in the extended RE community is divided, but the major­­ity view appears to be inclusive of the diversity of starting points in faiths, theistic and non-theistic.

Good religious and moral education can open doors to the development of a profound religious and moral sense that each faith community prizes in its own way. Schools, homes, and parental faith communities are complementary.

Schools and teachers are faced daily with hard questions that boys and girls bring in from a bewildering world. How to help them grow in competence and confidence to do this is a priority for everyone of faith and good will.
BRIAN GATES
Chair, RE Council of England and Wales
Emeritus Professor of Religious and Moral Education
University of Cumbria
Lancaster LA1 3JD

letters@churchtimes.co.uk

Schools and teachers are faced daily with hard questions that boys and girls bring in from a bewildering world. How to help them grow in competence and confidence to do this is a priority for everyone of faith and good will.
BRIAN GATES
Chair, RE Council of England and Wales
Emeritus Professor of Religious and Moral Education
University of Cumbria
Lancaster LA1 3JD

letters@churchtimes.co.uk

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