RE teachers cautious about religion

According to a ComRes poll in late October, commissioned by Theos, 59% of adults in Britain think “schools are increasingly restricted in what they can say about religion”.

That is if they teach it at all.

Although all state–funded schools in England and Wales are required by law to provide Religious Education for all pupils, in a third of secondary schools the subject is virtually non–existent.

The poll also shows that over 10% of people don’t think it is important that children learn about different religions and beliefs, and over a quarter think RE does not need to be compulsory.

As Christians we want children to learn about all religions as part of a rounded education to prepare them for life. We especially want them to know about Christianity, which we believe is essential for everyone. It is not just that it is the only way to truly know God as Father, but also because it is part of our heritage in this country and it underpins many of our national institutions and values such as justice and equality.

One reason for schools not wanting to critically engage with religions might be a lack of in-depth subject knowledge and expertise; RE teaching is quite often done by teachers who trained in other specialities and in some cases is left to Teaching Assistants.  

I suspect, however, that the predominant reason is a reluctance to cover controversial subjects within religions such as violence, exclusive truth claims, morality codes and issues of gender and sexuality. Teachers generally seek to avoid controversy by referring to only the positive aspects of a religion. No teacher wants to be accused of inciting prejudice or hate speech.

We would rather that all religions, including Christianity, are held up to scholarly examination and debate in an atmosphere of mutual respect and desire for truth. To this end we would wish for more qualified RE teachers who are able to explain the claims of Jesus in the light of the evidence, and to show Christianity’s coherence and relevance to life now.

Graham Nicholls is Director of Affinity


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