Church leaders propose development of national RE syllabus

The leaders of three Church education bodies have togetherproposed the development of a new national statutory ReligiousEducation (RE) syllabus.

The Rt Rev Dr Kenneth Stevenson (Bishop of Portsmouth andChairman, Church of England Board of Education), Kathleen Wood(Education Officer, The Methodist Church) and Gillian Wood(Education Officer, The Free Churches) have written to theSecretary of State for Education and Skills, to offer this proposalas a more far-reaching solution than a non-statutory framework.

The Churches' proposal comes as a response to the QCA report ofa feasibility study on a non-statutory framework for religiouseducation. The Churches welcome that report as a clear statement ofthe many benefits to be derived from moving to a more consistentpractice in RE across the country; it would also have a positivebenefit from the point of view of the Churches and other faithcommunities in Britain. But a non-statutory framework would only beadvisory, and the described benefits would therefore only bederived patchily.

"RE has improved considerably in recent years and is a popularsubject when it is well taught," said the Bishop of Portsmouth."Our proposal would strengthen RE further and make it moreeffective. RE is important: it helps pupils understand the place ofChristianity and other great religions in our society; it helpsthem respond to important questions for their own lives; and itcontributes to a more just and cohesive society."

For the purpose of framing this new national RE syllabus, theChurches recommend the establishment of a national standingconference, to bring together representatives of the churches andfaith communities with RE professionals (teachers, teachertrainers, inspector and advisers) and government.

This proposal would spell the end of local authority agreedsyllabuses for RE, and therefore the end of local authority AgreedSyllabus Conferences. The Churches do, however, see a continuingpurpose in local authority Standing Advisory Councils for RE(SACREs): they would still bring together representatives of thelocal churches and faith communities with teachers and the localauthority to support the quality of RE; and they would stillconsider determinations about collective worship. SACREs would alsocontinue to have an important place as a forum for localinter-faith dialogue and activity and thus would continue tocontribute to the government's community cohesion agenda.

The full text of the letter:

To the Right Honourable Charles Clarke MP, Secretary ofState for Education and Skills

When you met some of us with the Bishop of Blackburn beforeChristmas, one of the matters touched on was the place of RE in theschool curriculum. We welcome your commitment to the subject byincluding it in your own ministerial portfolio, supported byBaroness Ashton of Upholland. We understand that, in a subsequentdiscussion with the Bishop of Blackburn, you stressed your wish tostrengthen RE.

Against that background, we welcome the publication of the QCAreport of a feasibility study on a non-statutory framework forreligious education. We consider it a clear statement of the manybenefits to be derived from moving to a more consistent practice inRE across the country. A non-statutory framework would supportteachers and their trainers, inspectors and those responsible fortraining them and moderating their work, publishers, the media and,above all, pupils. It would also have a positive benefit from thepoint of view of the churches we represent and the faithcommunities in Britain. All that is indicated in the report.

A non-statutory framework would, however, only be advisory. Itsimpact would ultimately depend on autonomous Agreed SyllabusConferences (ASCs) in each Local Authority. The described benefitswould therefore only be derived patchily. Against that, it issometimes suggested that local agreed syllabuses can be sensitiveto local circumstances. Even if the national picture had notchanged a good deal since the introduction of ASCs in 1944, wewould not consider such local sensitivity to outweigh the potentialbenefits of a national syllabus.

We are writing, therefore, to offer a more far-reaching solutionthan a non-statutory framework. What we would like to propose isthe development of a new national statutory RE syllabus. For thepurpose of framing this new national RE syllabus, we recommend theestablishment of a national standing conference, to bring togetherrepresentatives of the churches and faith communities with REprofessionals (teachers, teacher trainers, inspector and advisers)and government.

While this proposal would spell the end of local authorityagreed syllabuses for RE, and therefore the end of ASCs, we would,however, see a continuing purpose in local authority StandingAdvisory Councils for RE (SACREs): they would still bring togetherrepresentatives of the local churches and faith communities withteachers and the local authority to support the quality of RE; andthey would still consider determinations about collective worship.SACREs would also continue to have an important place as a forumfor local inter-faith dialogue and activity and thus would continueto contribute to the government's community cohesion agenda.

We are not proposing a change in the law on RE in schools with areligious character, though some may choose to implement aspects ofthe framework and to derive other benefits from it. For thisreason, and because the route for approving the syllabus woulddiffer from that for other subjects, RE would not become part ofthe national curriculum but would continue to make up with thenational curriculum the basic curriculum for schools.

We hope you may be interested in our proposal. We look forwardto discussing the issue with you at an early opportunity when wewould offer views about the make-up of the national standingconference. We would be very willing to do all that we can tosupport the implementation of our proposal.

From the Rt Rev Dr Kenneth Stevenson, Bishop ofPortsmouth
(Chairman, Church of England Board of Education)

also on behalf of:
Kathleen Wood, Education Officer, The Methodist Church
Gillian Wood, Education Officer, The Free Churches