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A New Settlement: responses to the Clarke and Woodhead proposals

03 July 2015


From Mr John Keast

Sir, - When I was the professional officer for RE at the Department for Education, Charles Clarke was a supportive Secretary of State for Education, and published the non-statutory National Framework for RE in 2004.

I welcome, therefore, the serious analysis of the issues for a new settlement for religion and belief in schools set out in a pamphlet by Mr Clarke and Professor Linda Woodhead ( News, 19 June).

I agree that there should be a national syllabus for RE as the default position for all schools. This would go a long way to removing much of the oddity and weakness of RE within the curriculum, and raise standards of religious literacy. Local SACREs would still have a useful part to play, as the pamphlet makes clear.

I am less convinced about the proposals for faith schools based on theoretical distinctions between RE, formation, and instruction. In practice, they are not so easily distinguishable. It is, of course, easier to argue the case for removing the right of parents to withdraw their children from RE with such distinctions, but I believe this may become a challenge too far.

The authors rightly argue that the legal requirement for RE to be taught to all those in school sixth forms but not in sixth-form or further-education colleges should be removed. I am, however, greatly concerned about their proposals for RE for 14-16-year-olds, particularly in the context of the recent announcement about GCSEs in the EBacc subjects - from which RE is excluded.

It is puzzling that Mr Clarke and Professor Woodhead should risk the status of RE by suggesting that the legal requirement should be weakened as "to study religious, spiritual, moral, ethical, social and cultural values", mixing it with PSHE, etc. This reminds me of the tokenistic RE in many secondary schools when I began teaching. Also puzzling is the recommendation to rename the subject "Religious and Moral Education". We do not talk about Historical Education, but History; so why not "Religion and Philosophy"? Mr Clarke and Professor Wooodhead's recommendation that OFSTED should re-establish a strong inspection regime is timely. It should never have been abandoned.

If these proposals become the basis of high-level discussion of the issues, as they should, the result could be a new settlement in 2019, 75 years after the Butler Act, and 30 after the Baker Act, which foolishly introduced a National Curriculum without RE in it.


6 Highfield Avenue
St Austell
Cornwall PL25 4SN


From Mr Clive Ireson

Sir, - The Association of Christian Teachers is deeply disappointed with the first recommendation in A New Settlement that the daily act of collective worship that must be wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character should be abolished.

Schools are tasked for providing for the spiritual, moral, social, and cultural development of children. One of the ways it can do this is through a collective act of worship of a broadly Christian character. In schools, the act of collective worship can give a pause in the day for children to reflect on God, and, when done well, have a sense of wonder and awe.

Schools are often such frenetic places these days, with the emphasis continually on academic excellence. The act of collective worship allows children to explore in safety the reasons for life and being, and that we are all equal in the sight of God, whatever our academic ability. The sheer fact that in some schools the act of collective worship is not "done" well is not a good reason for abolishing it.

Education was the "family business" of the Church. We do not want to divorce education from the Church. We know there are some who would want this.

Currently, it is the law that the daily act of collective worship, wholly or mainly of Christian character, takes place; so one wonders why OFSTED doesn't report on it more often in its inspections, as OFSTED is surely required to inspect that all statutory requirements are being met, not just the ones on which OFSTED chooses to report.

This act of worship also allows faith leaders and religious groups to be invited into schools to lead assemblies. This all helps with understanding and community cohesion.

Of course, as always, there is a right of withdrawal from collective worship. The vast majority of schools arrange the worship in such a way that this option isn't taken up.

We live in a Christian country where the act of collective worship is a fundamental part of life in Britain, and must be protected so that all our children can explore their spiritual dimension, and are better able to understand the reason for life.


Director, Association of Christian Teachers
Rowan House
23 Billing Road
Northampton NN1 5AT

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