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Current threat to RE in a broader context

04 January 2012


From the Revd Stephen Southgate

Sir, — While John Keast accuses Michael Gove of dismantling RE (News, 30 December), it strikes me that both deeper and broader concerns are warranted.

First, the peculiar status given to RE in the 1988 Education Reform Act was always ill-founded: an all-too-transparent ploy to use “reli­gion” to galvanise the nation.

Unfortunately, the beleaguered RE professionals of the day were quick and uncritical in embracing their newly secured place on the timetable (and as consultants for collective worship), and so the opportunity to establish something with more integrity was missed.

There was no attempt to disguise the agenda in the late 1980s of seeking to use a standardised, qualifications-led curriculum, weighted towards technical subjects (and the newly emerging field of IT), to improve the nation’s per­form­ance in business and industry. The science core was legislated (although not at all resourced at primary-school level), alongside what we now call literacy and numeracy; but several other features were wanting for a truly educational curriculum.

There should, for one thing, have been a humanities core of geo­graphy, history, and religious studies, so that children could understand where we live, how we got here, and what we believe about it all.

Similar arguments apply for English with, say, Latin and Spanish; music, art, and drama; and PE, home economics, and design tech­no­­logy, as language, arts, and practical cores. It is not possible to teach any of these subjects with interest and passion without ad­dressing the issues that lie behind them — unless, of course, there is some box-ticking method of ascertaining coverage and achieve­ment, in which case, education is likely to lose out to administration.

Equally important is the cross-fertilisation of ideas which leads to the kind of insight and innovation which can never be predicted and seldom measured. Where these are encouraged, it owes nothing to the dominant thinking of the state.

I take my hat off to the dedicated teachers in all phases who pursue the highest aims of their profession, despite the continuing burdens of unhelpful bureaucracy; but neither religious nor any other branch of education is safe while we continue to chase so many fatuous pieces of paper.

(Former primary and RE teacher)
The Vicarage, Grove Road
Mollington, Chester CH1 6LG

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