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Poll criticises ‘incoherent’ RE teaching

30 November 2012

by a staff reporter


British early Christian history: Elgin Cathedral, the "Lantern of the North" 

British early Christian history: Elgin Cathedral, the "Lantern of the North" 

TEACHING about Christianity in schools is often incoherent, stereotypical, and lacking in intellectual development, and teachers are often nervous about teaching RE because they are worried that they could be seen as "evangelising", says a YouGov poll, commissioned by the University of Oxford's Department for Education.

The survey was undertaken as part of a new intervention project by Oxford University researchers to support RE teachers. The web-based initiative for trainee primary-school teachers seeks to help them prepare for teaching Christianity by confronting issues such as personal faith and teaching.

The poll found that the majority of those questioned - 64 per cent - agreed that children needed to learn about Christianity in order to understand the history of Britain. Its leading researcher, Dr Nigel Fancourt, said: "In some schools, the fact that the basics [of Christianity] are already vaguely familiar to some teachers and pupils means it can present problems. . .

"The subject is often conceived as faith development, particularly in some church schools, or moral development. Teaching of Christianity should engage pupils with the depth and breadth of the Christian tradition, present the subtlety of diversity, and provide an academic challenge."

The free support project, which will be widely available by next September, has been praised by the Religious Education Council of England and Wales. Its chairman, John Keast, said: "For several years, inspection reports have shown that the teaching of Christianity, which is a key part of the RE curriculum in our schools, is too weak. With the almost total withdrawal of government support for RE, and with collapsing arrangements for local support for RE, it is good to see a major university project providing a positive way forward."

The project has been funded with donations from the Jerusalem Trust and the Culham St Gabriel's Trust.

Dispute over faith schools. A dispute has broken out in the Coalition Government over the expansion of faith schools, amid accusations from the Liberal Democrats that the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, is flouting the Coalition Agreement. The dispute centres on two Roman Catholic schools in Richmond, which are to recruit 90 per cent of their intake on the basis of religion. The Coalition Agreement in 2010 called on faith schools to have a 50-per-cent limit on faith-based intake.

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