THE 1944 settlement, the basis for governing religious
education, school worship, and denominational schools for the past
seven decades, should be replaced with an agreement in tune with
modern reality, a former Secretary of State for Education, Charles
Clarke, said this week.
Mr Clarke calls for the change in a pamphlet, A New
Settlement: Religion and belief in schools, cowritten with
Professor Linda Woodhead, a colleague at Lancaster University,
where he is a visiting professor in politics and religion.
"It is clear to us", they say, "that the educational settlement
between Church and State formalised in the 1944 Education Act, and
reflected a different era, no longer serves its purpose."
Their argument is driven by their conviction that greater
diversity has increased the importance of religion rather than
diminished it. On Mr Clarke's part, that conviction is reinforced
by his subsequent experience as Home Secretary. Knowledge of what
religions are, and what they are not, as part of a general public
understanding, would counter extremism and contribute to cohesion,
he said on Monday.
The pamphlet's recommendation that the legal requirement for a
daily act of collective worship in schools should be scrapped,
because it is more often honoured in form than substance, captured
the headlines when the pamphlet - which is almost a template for
the future of faith schools and religious education - was published
But Mr Clarke's and Professor Woodhead's objective, based on
their belief in the critical part played by religious education, is
a root-and-branch overhaul of the system that delivers it.
They argue for an end to the current system, under which RE is
taught according to a multitude of local agreed syllabuses drawn up
by committees of teachers and religious representatives.
Mr Clarke and Professor Woodhead say that it has undermined
standards and confidence in the subject, and should be replaced by
a national syllabus for the subject, possibly renamed religious and
moral education, and determined by the Secretary of State in
consultation with a National Standing Advisory Council on RE. The
syllabus should be entirely educational, and free of any
With the agreement of the Churches and other faith-school
providers, the Government should consider legislating to require
all schools to adopt the syllabus they propose, the pamphlet says.
"If these changes are agreed, the right of parents to withdraw
their children from the religious education part of the curriculum
should be withdrawn."
The current legal requirement for RE to be part of the post-16
curriculum should be removed, and should be modified at Key Stage 4
(ages 14 to 16) "to a wider study of religious, ethical, and
cultural values". OFSTED should revive a stronger attitude to the
inspection of RE and assemblies, the pamphlet recommends.
Mr Clarke knows from his experience as Education Secretary from
2002 to 2004, when he encouraged the development of a national
framework for RE, that the proposed change to a legally backed
national syllabus will be welcomed by modernisers, but resisted by
His sympathisers in the RE world, however, convinced that
improved standards in RE depend on its being treated on the same
basis as other subjects, are now in a stronger position.
The pamphlet has been generally welcomed by RE professionals.
Mark Chater, director of the Oxford-based Culham St Gabriel's
institute, which supports church schools and religious education,
said that, if implemented, the "bold and thoughtful" proposal would
"give RE teachers a clear minimum statutory entitlement, and allow
curriculum freedom at local level".
But criticism of the recommendation to end the requirement for
post-16 RE, and change the focus of RE on the Key Stage 4
curriculum, has already begun. It was challenged at Monday's launch
by the Church of England's chief education officer, the Revd Nigel
Later, Mr Genders said that the proposal would result in "a
further watering-down of RE, and a lack of the rigour which the
report so eloquently demands". The proposal seemed at odds with Mr
Clarke's and Professor Woodhead's objective of school leavers'
achieving deeper religious literacy, he argued.
Furthermore, the C of E supported the continuation of collective
worship in all schools, Mr Genders said. "There is flexibility in
the provision to enable all children to benefit without
compromising their faith or lack of it." Changing its statutory
status would leave little opportunity for children to engage in
reflection during the school day, he said.
'Keep faith schools, but make admissions
CHURCH schools, and others with a religious designation, should
remain part of the national schools system, the Clarke-Woodhead
manifesto argues, writes Margaret
Holness. "Children of families of faith should, where
possible, be able to attend schools of that faith and . . . their
current right to be given priority in the admissions process should
not be removed."
Moreover, the authors suggest that faith schools need to employ
staff who are able to carry out the mission of the school "which
may, exceptionally, require the ability to discriminate, which the
law now grants them".
While disappointing secularists and pleasing the providers of
church and other faith schools, the Clarke-Woodhead support for
faith schools is not unqualified. Their pamphlet refers to
legitimate concerns about fairness in admissions and staff
Their principal criticism of admissions criteria is the use of
attendance at worship as a requirement. On the employment of
teachers, their view is that "in general . . . the requirement that
a teacher or headteacher be in sympathy with the aims of the school
and its faith, and willing to uphold and promote them, is
The authors single out the Church of England Education Office
for its progress on admissions procedures to its 1600 voluntary
aided schools, where governors are responsible for criteria. They
say, however, that: "The Churches need to make strong and continued
progress in addressing the very real concerns about fairness. . .
Changes in the legal position should be considered as an urgent
matter if faith bodies fail to make progress."
In a comment on the pamphlet, Rabbi Jonathan Romain, the
chairman of the Accord Coalition, which campaigns against religious
discrimination in state-funded schools, said that a 50-per-cent
limit on faith places imposed on academies and free schools should
be extended to voluntary and foundation schools.
'More and better
religion, not less' - Schools need to teach
about the real thing now more than ever, says Paul