CORNWALL Council confirmed this week that teaching about Paganism has been a religious-education option in the Duchy’s schools since a revision of the locally agreed RE syllabus last year. After claims of “witchcraft lessons” made in a Sunday newspaper last weekend, a spokeswoman said that Paganism was just one option available to schools that were within sight of standing stones, or where some pupils had Pagan parents.
But the RE adviser for Cornwall, David Hampshire, said that the intention was wider. The option was developed after the Agreed Syllabus Conference decided to produce a specifically local element, “Curriculum Kernewek” (Cornish curriculum), for the county, which has more Neolithic sites than anywhere else in Britain. “This includes information about Cornwall’s many local saints and historic Christian associations, as well as Paganism,” Mr Hampshire said.
A statement from the Council this week, “The Teaching of Paganism in Cornish Schools”, gave details. It says that at Key Stage 1, if there are sites “within the vicinity of the school it would seem right to explore them as part of a pupil’s broader religious education.
“At Key Stage 3 schools have the opportunity to look at the development of modern Paganism and why it is important for some in Cornwall, and about why pre-Christian sites have gained significance for these diverse groups. . .
“Whilst Paganism will not be a major feature of Cornish RE, given the time to be spent on Christianity (not less than 60% of RE in any one year . . .) and the other major religious traditions (not more than 40% . . .) it will give pupils the opportunity to look at an increasingly significant family of new religious traditions that are important for some people in the Duchy.”
The chairman of Cornwall’s Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education, which monitors the subject locally, the Revd Mike Coles, pastor of Falmouth Evangelical Church, said: “It seems right to develop a distinctively Cornish element that included the early Celtic saints, the influence of John Wesley, and the history of Truro Cathedral, as well as the significance of pre-Christian sites.”
Other church leaders in Cornwall have also defended the syllabus. The chairman of Cornwall Methodist District, the Revd Steven Wild, said: “Knowledge is not a threat. This area has preserved much of its ancient culture, and if a school is within sight of some standing stones it is helpful if children understand what they represent.”
A statement from Truro diocese said that the subject of Paganism, and its inclusion in the curriculum, had been misrepresented and taken out of context. “Children should have opportunities to gain understanding in the context of their own locality,” the diocesan director of education, Sue Green, said.
“The syllabus allows teachers to respond to — and celebrate — local diversity, and provide children with the knowledge to develop appropriate attitudes to different religions. It makes it clear that Christianity should predominate at each key stage.”
Last week’s allegations of witchcraft lessons emerged from a national trawl of RE syllabuses undertaken by The Mail on Sunday, under the Freedom of Information Act, it is understood. The director the Culham Institute, a research and development centre for RE, the Revd Dr John Gay, said: “The syllabus recognises that Cornwall has become a place of spiritual inquiry, drawing in a disproportionate following of non- traditional religions. It would be educationally wrong to ignore this aspect of a child’s local experience.
“RE lessons are not about inculcating any one belief, but are set within the educational context of the overall curriculum. No scope, then, for religious heavy-sell, and certainly not for lessons in broomstick-riding.”