Government bows to Christian strain more than religious schooling

Pupils studying religious education will be taught that Britain is traditionally Christian, after the government bowed to pressure from the Anglican and Catholic churches and watered down proposals for pupils to study a minimum of two religions.

The initial proposals, made in the wake of the “Trojan horse” affair in Birmingham schools, were aimed at stopping schools from using religious education as a vehicle for promoting extremist Islamic ideas.

But after protests from the Church of England and Catholic and Jewish leaders, the Department for Education’s consultation paper issued on Friday allows schools to focus 75% of their RE teaching on a single religion.

The DfE said it had consulted widely among religious organisations before issuing the delayed paper, which was welcomed by the Catholic Education Service.

Malcolm McMahon, the Catholic archbishop of Liverpool and chairman of the CES, said: “We welcome the assurances from the secretary of state [for education] that these proposals do not undermine the autonomy of the Catholic bishops to determine and inspect religious education in Catholic schools.

“All Catholic schools are required by church teachings to raise pupils’ awareness of the faith and traditions of other religious communities in order to understand and respect them. These new proposals will facilitate Catholic schools in this duty.”

The CES said religious education must make up at least 10% of teaching time in Catholic schools and was inspected separately under arrangements in the 2005 Education Act.

“By ensuring that young people learn about more than just one religion, this new GCSE will better prepare students for life in modern Britain,” the education secretary, Nicky Morgan, said.

Under the latest GCSE proposals, schools can concentrate teaching on one religion for 75% of the course, with the remaining 25% spent on “beliefs and teachings” and “sources of wisdom and authority” in a second religion. The current RE curriculum allows schools to teach a single religion. The religions covered in the consultation document are Buddhism, Christianity, Catholicism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism.

The consultation document also states that pupils will be required to “demonstrate knowledge and understanding” that “religious traditions in Great Britain are diverse” and “the fact that religious traditions of Great Britain are, in the main, Christian”.

The draft GCSE course topics for Islam include: “Jihad: greater and lesser, origins, impact and conditions for declaration of lesser jihad”, while the Judiaism draft content includes “different attitudes to Zionism and the state of Israel among Jewish people”.

The Religious Education Council of England and Wales welcomed the consultation but argued that pupils should also be able to study non-religious world views. “We want to promote a rigorous and inclusive study of religions and beliefs that is relevant and challenging for young people of all faiths and none,” said Joyce Miller, chair of the REC.

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