75 years out of date – time to reform religion in schools

18 July 2018 11:31
The Houses of Parliament
The pamphlet was launched at the Houses of Parliament

A new pamphlet calls for urgent reform of religion in schools in England and Wales.

Authored by former Home Secretary the Right Honourable Charles Clarke, Visiting Professor in Politics and Faith at Lancaster University, and Professor Linda Woodhead MBE, also of Lancaster University, the paper, ‘A New Settlement Revised: Religion and Belief in Schools’ highlights that the laws governing religion in schools have not been updated since 1944.

They argue that the country has changed significantly in the 75 years since the Education Act, and that 2019 should be the year that legislation is updated to better reflect modern Britain.

In stark contrast to the predominantly Christian country of the 1940s, a majority of people in Britain now say they have ‘no religion’ and minority religions are continuing to grow. As a result, the way that religion is taught has changed dramatically, as has the public’s expectations of schools.

Launched in the House of Commons on Tuesday, July 17th, the pamphlet provides updated recommendations on how to remedy the situation - building on widely accepted initial proposals by the authors in a paper published in 2015.

They argue that outdated elements within the 1944 Act are hampering schools and causing confusion.

The problems identified by the authors include:

(a)       the lack of a national syllabus for RE, in contrast to other academic subjects, which is degrading the subject

(b)       schools for which a daily “Act of Collective Worship” is not necessarily appropriate, that find themselves breaching the law or abandoning assemblies and using the time for other purposes, without any sanctions

(c)        a lack of consistency, clarity and fairness in the selection criteria that faith schools are allowed to apply.

The pamphlet offers recommendations that address these three problem areas.

The Right Honourable Charles Clarke, Visiting Professor in Politics and Faith at Lancaster University, said: “The current legal relationship between religion, belief and schools is outdated in such a way that the law itself has become a barrier to schools’ ability to help their children understand their own situation and the world in which they are growing up.

“What’s urgently needed, and what we call for in this pamphlet, is an urgent reform of the law that underpins the way religion is handled in schools.”

Professor Linda Woodhead, of Lancaster University, said: “Over the nearly 75 years since the Education Act of 1944 schools have changed enormously, as has the map of religion and belief across the country. We believe that the anniversary of the Act is the perfect time to honour its spirit by updating the law about religion in schools to reflect the situation today.”

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