Keeping Faith – Safeguarding RE in Schools

As Headteacher of a Church of England Secondary School, I welcome the news that a group of cross-party MPs is forming a committee to safeguard the future of . After the disappointment of RE being omitted from the contentious ‘E-Bacc,’ it is good to see that our elected members of parliament share a vision for the promulgation of a quality programme of religious studies which enhances our society at a time when it is vital that the next generation are able to empathise with those of other faiths, securing a future which is not blighted by the religious strife of the past.

In the same week, Baroness Warsi, Britain’s only Muslim MP, urged us all to take some pride in the Christian nature of our country, and not to seek to eradicate the distinctiveness of our faith in order to make others seemingly more welcome. Yet recent news stories which highlight the ‘banning’ of prayers in council meetings further fuels the debate about the true religious nature of Britainin the 21st Century.

So, time perhaps for a country to remind itself of the historic, central place of RE in the curriculum, compulsory for all. However, I would like politicians and educationalists alike to realize that the learning of RE in schools should extend far beyond the concept of ‘study’. The oft-neglected concept of allowing pupils to explore their own spirituality is part of the mission of every school, and even our friendly guides from OFSTED recognize and monitor the necessity of spiritual development in a high quality education system.

Tolerance, empathy, awareness and understanding are all qualities that emerge from a curriculum that allows RE to flourish, and surely each will play a vital role in shaping a positive future when our world is such a small place to the young people of today, defined by ease of communication and access. A cursory glance in the newspapers indicates the worldwide outcomes for societies who find themselves unable to live by the four values listed above, and the descent into strife and poverty (either financial or social) is clear to see. Quality RE education can play its part in avoiding inter-faith friction, so often founded on ignorance and the lack of an awareness of others.

If the above qualities shine through in schools which fully develop the potential of RE, then for schools which seek to move beyond mere ‘religious education’ and look to promote ‘spirituality’ then the benefits are wider still. Promoting Christian values such as love, peace, forgiveness and trust, for example, will bring a greater reward in the life of individuals, families and the life of the school in general. If RE stops at the door of the classroom then it is a subject to be studied and not lived, which is perhaps similar to ‘studying’ football but never playing it! One is dull and dry, whilst the other is full of hands-on learning and personal experience. Learning about concepts like forgiveness is one thing, but pupils engaging with such as part of a school discipline system is an entirely different matter which promotes the true nature of RE in living action.

Let us welcome the politicians’ desire to safeguard the rightful place of RE in schools, but perhaps also they should take this opportunity to ensure that the nature of RE provision is such that it has a positive impact on young lives at a time when so many are crying out for a set of credible values by which to live, to create meaning and self-worth in an often troubled place.

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Dr Simon Hulme

Dr Simon Hulme is Headteacher at St Michael’s Church of England High School in Crosby, Liverpool. He was born in Gloucestershire and studied at Liverpool University.

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