A new report published by the National Secular Society (NSS) (PDF file) has revealed that publicly funded schools are being exploited by evangelical Christian groups. The report was published in light of many parents getting in touch with the NSS with concerns that schools were allowing external visitors in with unwelcome religious interests.
This seems like a clear aim by religious groups to prey upon young people with the ultimate aim of relaying a set of beliefs and winning conversion. Much of the report could be seen to be targeting the loose definition of Religious Education (RE) itself. The specific aims and purposes of RE are all too ambiguous, which is giving external Christian groups a foot in the door.
The report comes in the wake of last week’s report by Ofsted that more than half of England’s schools are failing pupils with religious education. Not only are teachers failing to understand the subject but the subject is failing to get pupils to think about fundamental questions surrounding human life. Contrary to some of the comments surrounding this story, I believe that RE is of significant value in schools but first its purpose has to be defined.
Firstly, the purpose of RE should not be about pushing children/teenagers into having a faith. Classes should be interactive thought-provoking environments, where children can discuss their individual beliefs openly. We are living in an increasingly multi-cultural society and intellectual understanding of different beliefs would serve the future well. There are themes behind all religions that relate directly back to sociological, physiological and anthropological roots.
The next step should be to support the British Human Association’s reform of RE. Approaching RE impartially; allowing students to explore religious and non-religious viewpoints. RE should be integrated into other humanities, exploring the social and historical relevance of religion and belief. In turn this would clash against confessional teaching in state schools, where pupils must follow particular religions and are denied a balanced objective syllabus. It certainly wouldn’t allow exploitation by outside religious groups.
This would be fitting for two reasons. RE can now be entirely beneficial to the students and devoid of internal education despotic interests in evangelism or forced cultural conformance. It would introduce RE back to the principles of the Age of Enlightenment, promoting intellectual thought and skepticism.