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Parents value Religious Education, survey finds

06 January 2023


MOST parents with a child in school believe that what their child learns in RE lessons is important, and that school is the place where children should learn about different religions as well as non-religious world-views, a new survey suggests.

Parents were asked how important or unimportant they regard what their child learnt in RE lessons. The survey of 2000 parents, all living in the UK and with a child aged between five and 18, found that two-thirds believed in the importance of RE. Women and parents under 34 more likely to see the importance of the subject. Only 15 per cent of parents said that they did not see the value of RE.

Parents who said that the subject was important were asked why they regarded what their child learnt in RE as important. Responses included that it taught acceptance, history, and understanding and empathy for others. One parent who did not identify as religious said that the subject would enable their child to make their own decisions about faith.

From the minority who did not see the value of RE, parents were asked why they regarded the teaching of RE as unimportant. They raised concerns that the subject should not be forced on young children. One commented that it was “dangerous for young minds”.

Half of those surveyed said that they taught their child to follow a particular faith at home, and the majority of parents had discussions at home about different faiths and values. When asked how often they discussed belief and the practices of other faiths, and questions about life after death and the origins of life, more than 70 per cent of parents said they discussed such questions at home, sometimes or often.

Parents at a faith school were no more confident in discussing religious ideas and beliefs at home than parents with a child at a non-faith school, the survey found.

Parents were asked: “Where does your child access information about different religions?” The majority, 69 per cent, said that school was the place for children to learn about different world-views.

Parents were also asked: “What concerns, if any, do you have with the teaching of religious education at your school?” Common responses included fear of discrimination against children of different faiths, or bias in the curriculum against or for particular faiths. Parents were also concerned that the subject should be taught by specialist teachers, and wanted to see a broad range of faiths taught about and discussed.

Some raised the importance of setting the study of RE in real world events and how it was relevant to modern life. Parents were also asked about the new approach to RE set out in 2018, focusing on religion and world-views, which includes teaching the historical and social context of religion, and allowing children to explore similarities and differences between world-views. Parents were broadly supportive of the principles behind the new approach, seven in ten supporting it.

The survey was carried out by Savanta ComREs for the Culham St Gabriel’s Trust, a charity that describes itself as promoting a broad education in religion and world-views.

The chief executive, Dr Kathryn Wright, said: “The research shows that a strong majority are supportive of the religion and world-views approach to RE — particularly the idea that every child has their own unique world-view. RE teachers are crucial in helping young people understand and explore these different world-views and ultimately find their place in modern Britain and the wider world.”

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