THE long-standing legal right of parents to withdraw their children from school RE lessons should be revoked, head-teacher representatives said this week.
Heads attending the annual conference of the National Association of Head Teachers, in Birmingham last weekend, backed almost unanimously a motion calling on their executive to negotiate a change in the law to make RE compulsory, together with maths, history, and English
The right of withdrawal, which dates back to the 1944 educational settlement, which provided for largely scriptural but non-denominational RE to be taught to all pupils in local-authority schools, has been little used.
But, over the past 70 years, RE has become predominantly a way of teaching about ethics and religious diversity for pupils of all ages, and now plays a crucial part in delivering the Government’s “British Values” agenda, as speakers in Sunday’s debate on the issue pointed out.
A Birmingham head teacher, Sarah Hewiston-Clarkson, who leads one of the schools affected by the Trojan Horse allegations (News, 18 July 2014), said: “Groomers and radicalisers exploit ignorance and narrow views of life. Learning about the teachings of love, not hate, has to be a good thing. Not learning about other religions and beliefs does not prepare you for life in modern Britain, and makes a mockery of British values.”
The Church of England’s chief education officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, said: “The primary purpose of RE is to help young people make sense of themselves and the world in which they live, and from those seeds will grow communities equipped to live well together. RE is therefore a vital part of a broad curriculum: something most parents would want for their children.”