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23-03-2017
↓     Our letter published in the Brent & Kilburn Times 24-11-16, Harrow Times    ↓

Letter to the Editor,
"Recent publicity in the media about Government plans to reintroduce grammar schools has diverted attention from a separate proposal to lift the 50% cap on selection by faith as practised by faith schools. Some faith schools will then select 100% from their own faith. This will do nothing for community cohesion: children need to mix with other children from all faiths and backgrounds."


06-10-2016
↓     A letter from one of our members to his MP, on new government Faith School plans    ↓

Many thanks for our discussion about faith schools at your constituency office. As agreed, my major concerns are listed below:

1) The decision to remove the 50% cap on selection is very unfair because parents of children living within easy reach of (state funded!) faith schools will be forced to find another school much further from home. The consequent costs of transport and travel time will in many cases act against the prospects of gainful employment for one or both parents and stress the family budget beyond control.

2) I sincerely believe that faith schools are a divisive force in our society at a time when cohesion and fair play are generally accepted as progressive. Why is it that segregation of schools by religious belief in Northern Ireland is regarded as divisive whereas in England division and, indeed, fragmentation of our schools provision is encouraged by our government. Policy directed at encouraging faith schools on the premise that parents like faith schools is both populist and unsound. I submit that policy should have a clear moral direction in considerating its probable consequences for the children and the society they will inherit. An increase in the cap would be more sensible and beneficial.

3) Having been subjected to an RC education myself, being a "cradle catholic", I can speak at first hand. This sort of education does little to encourage independent or critical thinking such that our best scientific institutions promote. The Royal Society motto "Nullius in verba" is taken to mean "Take nobody's word for it"; verify all statements with regard to facts. Education provided by faith schools moves in precisely the opposite direction - providing a platform for received unverified wisdom and therefore against critical thinking. The consequences of this sort of education are many and overwhelmingly adverse for individuals, the economy and Society and all too clear to require further explanation.

I have already responded to the Government's online consultation document but I also value and am grateful for your kind offer to bring my concerns to the attention of Justine Greening. Meanwhile, I take some consolation in the thought that the proposed bill still needs to survive our democratic parliamentary process. The effect of removing the 50% cap will be much more profound than committing 5% of the education budget to grammar schools. In this respect its removal has escaped the public attention it deserves.


01-02-2016
↓     RE Classes and Curriculum in Harrow    ↓

"Humanism in schools and living with difference" was the subject of Harrow Humanists monthly meeting in January 2016 in which we were joined by a Religious Education teacher from one of the local secondary schools.

The main issues seem to be:
1. Should RE be on the national curriculum, on a par with other humanities subjects.
2. Should RE be renamed to include general ethics, philosophy, beliefs etc.
3. Should GCSE include non-religious component and de-emphasise Christianity.
4. Should 'Collective Worship' be abolished.
5. There is a need to educate for a greater pluralistic understanding of beliefs.
6. Should there be 'opt-outs' for RE and 'Collective Worship'.
7. No religious ‘instruction’ to be allowed during the school day.

There have been a number of independent reports relating to these issues published in 2015:

  1. "A New Settlement: Religion and Belief in Schools" Linda Woodhead and Charles Clarke
  2. "The Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life" Chair: Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Schloss
  3. "RE for real - The Future of Teaching and Learning about Religion and Belief" (a project within the Goldsmiths Religious Literacy Programme)
  4. "Collective Worship and Religious Observance in schools" Arts and Humanities Research Council

It was agreed that the regulations governing both the teaching of RE in schools and the assembly for an "act of collective worship" are hopelessly out of date and not fit for purpose in 21st century Britain.

An act of collective worship which is of a mainly Christian character is no longer appropriate in today's multiethnic and variably religious population and it should be abolished. In practice it has already largely been replaced in many schools by a non-denominational time for reflection on various moral and ethical issues. With such an inclusive type of assembly there would be no need for pupils to have a right of withdrawal.

The term Religious Education is too narrow to encompass the greater literacy and pluralistic understanding of both religious and other beliefs needed in today's society and it should be replaced by Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (or some similarly inclusive terminology). The current timetable allocation of one hour a week is inadequate to enable the encouragement of a questioning and analytical attitude and proper discussion of the history and current status of the various religious and non-religious beliefs such as Humanism (which should also be included in the GCSE syllabus).

It is absurd that RE is the only subject mandatory for all children to study but which is taught according to locally agreed curricula of a variable standard. It should have similar status to other "Humanities" and a National Curriculum which is taught in all types of schools which receive state funding, including so-called faith schools, but with a degree of flexibility to suit particular local circumstances. It is inappropriate for there to be any instruction in, or proselytising for, particular religions during the school day so that the right of withdrawal from RE (Philosophy and Ethics) lessons should become unnecessary.


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