Our secular society cannot afford to marginalise religious education

A call to put religion into the new bac is misplaced, but its absence does highlight the qualification's failings. The freedom schoolchildren enjoy to study texts that are not scriptures is relatively new and hard won. Secular education is a modern invention and a thoroughly good one. There are still fanatics of all faiths who would prefer to see children drilled in rigid dogmas. They must be resisted.

But when sensible clerics speak of religious studies as a passport to tolerance and mutual respect, they deserve an audience. That is the plea reported in today’s Observer, as religious leaders urge the inclusion of RE among subjects forming the new English baccalaureate.

The bac is a bundle of GCSEs – English, maths, science, a foreign language and one of history or geography – that, if passed, will constitute a worthier qualification than a mix of less “traditional” subjects. Schools will be rated on the number of bacs they achieve.

The goal of encouraging rigour in secondary schools is laudable, but the mechanism – nominating a select few subjects – risks marginalising important areas of learning. RE is a case in point. Without some grasp of religious texts, the history and culture of this country are impenetrable. Religion shapes the buildings on our horizons, literature in our libraries and paintings in our galleries. RE can also help us understand our neighbours.

Last week, Baroness Warsi, Conservative chair, warned of a dangerous hardening of British attitudes to Islam – a casual legitimisation of prejudice. Education can be an inoculation against that kind of threat.


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January 23rd, 2011

Staff Reporter EducationNews.org

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