A NEW All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) to provide backing at Westminster for religious education in schools was launched last week. The group is to be chaired by the MP for Eastbourne and Willingdon, Stephen Lloyd, whose Early Day Motion last year, calling for the inclusion of religious studies in the English Baccalaureate, attracted the signatures of 115 MPs (News, 4 March 2011).
The APPG says it will focus on safeguarding RE, which has become significantly more popular over the past 15 years, with a huge increase in the numbers studying RS at GCSE — up 113,000 to 460,000 over the same period.
The Church of England, the RC Church, Buddhist, Jewish, Sikh, and Muslim organisations have declared their support for the group, along with the British Humanist Association and RE-teaching associations.
The chairman of the Religious Education Council of England and Wales, John Keast, said that the creation of the APPG was an important step in giving the subject a strong profile in Parliament.
“The RE community has recently felt under fire. The Coalition Government is making policy decisions about academies, the national curriculum, qualifications, and teacher training provision, all of which, directly or indirectly, will affect how RE is taught,” he said.
A recent poll of young people between the ages of 16 and 24 suggested that RE had a positive impact on those who had studied it.
The chief education officer of the C of E, the Revd Jan Ainsworth, said: “RE is a vital subject in today’s world, as it not only teaches pupils about different faiths and cultures, but gives room for discussion that develops values, understanding, and responsibility.”