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RE month off to an enthusiastic start

03 March 2011

by Margaret Holness Education Correspondent

GETTING into the Houses of Parlia­ment these days, even for the most obviously eirenic event, is more daunting than taking a flight. An armed policeman patrolled the river­side terrace on Tuesday, while inside the Pavilion a handful of peers and MPs joined religious-education leaders to launch RE Month.

Beginning at the political centre, thousands of events are taking place, big and small, said Professor Brian Gates, chairman of the RE Council of England and Wales. They are being organised by cathedrals, dio­ceses, universities, and national bodies, and the idea has also been taken up by individual churches, mosques, synagogues, Sikh and Hindu temples, interfaith centres, schools, and even branch libraries.

The launch was hosted by Stewart Jackson, MP for Peterborough, and was an ecumenical affair, politically and in religious terms. Baroness Warsi, Minister without Portfolio and a Muslim, argued strongly for more RE: “God knows, we need it.” Even Andrew Copson, secretary of the British Humanist Association, was there in support, although he left halfway through.

A list was produced of the great and the good who had posted sup­porting statements, including the Archbishops of Canterbury, York, and Westminster, the Chief Rabbbi, the Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of London, and the politicians Clare Short, Charles Clarke, and Boris Johnson.

Many of those present work in RE, a subject that has been compulsory since 1944. It was long the poor relation on the curriculum, but, over the past decade, it has achieved an undreamt of popularity, not only at examination level, but also as a subject that seems to help people to make sense of their lives. That, at least, is what successive surveys sug­gest.

And there were some of those at the receiving end: the young choir from St John’s C of E School, Cat­ford; teenagers from Coopers and Coborn School; and young women from the mainly Muslim (and highly successful) Mulberry School in Tower Hamlets. The teenagers spoke win­ningly about what RE meant to them. The choir sang sweetly and, at the end, the audience joined in.

Recent governments have sup­ported RE because they see it as important for social cohesion. That was the line taken by Stephen Lloyd, the Liberal Democrat MP for East­bourne, who was drumming up sup­port for his Early Day Motion that calls for religious studies to be in­cluded in the English Baccalaureate proposed by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove (News, 21 January). There was a minority, he said, who wanted to exaggerate differences . . . to plant fear not facts, as provided by RE. “We’re not going to let them win.”

Campaign. The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard, who chairs the Board of Education, has added his name to the R.E.ACT campaign to persuade the Education Secretary to add GCSE RE to the English Baccalaureate.

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