St Albans parents debate Christian focus in school education

Is there a place for the teaching of Christianity in today's multi-cultural schools?

Is there a place for the teaching of Christianity in today's multi-cultural schools? - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Should children be forced to learn about Christianity in today’s schools, or is there no place for religion in education?

Humanists UK, a national charity representing non-religious people and secular interests, argues that our current education system is outdated.

The organisation believes the legal requirement for schools to have daily collective worship with a general Christian-type ethos is not suitable for young people growing up in modern Britain.

It follows the decision by an atheist couple living in Oxfordshire to take their children's primary school to the High Court, claiming biblical re-enactments and praying in assembly are a breach of their human rights.

RE is the only subject where parents have the legal right to ask their child to be removed. In its 2018 primary survey, The National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE) found that almost 16 per cent of schools surveyed said they had some parents using the right of withdrawal.

The Herts Ad spoke to some parents about their experiences and views to gauge the local perspective.

St Albans parent Andie Hann said: "I am interested in my child not being forced into participating in the religious aspect of school. I am waiting to see what it is like at the school before I withdraw her. I'm nervous she will feel left out."

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All teachers are made aware of the right for parents to withdraw from religious education during their training, and local primary teacher Lauren Valerie said: "As a school you have to respect the wishes of the parents."

But Sherree Scales asked: "I wonder how many people buy their children Easter eggs or Christmas presents - is that not pushing a religion on their children?"

Parent Terri Bates said: "In my opinion state-funded schooling should be secular with all mainstream religions covered and respected as part of world studies. Assembly should include messages of tolerance and British values."

Genna Clayton agreed: "If you want kids to be well-rounded then they need to be exposed to as much worldly knowledge as possible!"

Tess Machling holds a similar view: "An understanding of the world we live in and of those whose lives are different to our own can only be good."

Fazz Rallye recalled his own experiences of RE lessons at Verulam School: "There was a room that used to have Jews, Muslims and Hindus who didn't attend assembly as it was a Christian assembly with hymns. Even Mr Flanagan, who was Jewish, did not attend."

While some parents believe missing RE or assemblies could encourage intolerance, Lois Eve disagrees: "Missing out on a few assemblies or RE lessons isn't going to make the child racist at all.

"If anything you'll find most racism stems from the way they've been brought up in their own homes."

Teacher Lauren Valerie explained the way Christianity is presented in non-faith schools: "The way that non-faith schools teach RE is so that it is clear to children that it is a belief of the religion and not as fact or the belief of the teacher. For instance 'Christians believe the Bible is the word of God'.

"Faith schools are different as they have a specific focus in their ethos which is made clear when parents are choosing which school to send their child to."

Deputy headteacher of Townsend Church of England School said: "We observe the law as it currently stands and have regular worship opportunities but as a diverse community with pupils of many faiths and of no faith we aim to be inclusive of all in our community.

"Our worship programme is prepared annually and follows a monthly theme with Bible links and with opportunities to reflect other religions and world views, events and priorities.

"Our last official Church of England inspection told us that everything in the school that was inspected was outstanding and this included our worship programme".

Humanists UK said: "Current law and government guidance discriminates in favour of religion in requiring daily acts of 'collective worship' in schools, and in favour of Christianity in requiring that for schools without a religious character, the majority of these acts of collective worship should be 'of a broadly Christian character'."

The content of Religious Education lessons is agreed nationally by a Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education, a group of advisors from different religious groups.

NATRE added: "Agreed syllabuses used in schools which are not designated with a religious character must 'reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian, while taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain'."

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