Former UK’s Education Secretary Calls for the Reform of Purely Religious Education in Schools

By frwl (Takahata highschool 10) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
By frwl (Takahata highschool 10) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Charles Clarke urges a mix of religious and moral education with a focus on spirituality and ethical development.

Schools should end the teaching of pure religious education and instead adopt a mix of religious and moral education with focus being on the spirituality and ethical development of the young people passing through them. This is according to former UK Education Secretary Charles Clarke who served in the post from the year 2002 to 2004. In a report prepared by Clarke and religious expert Linda Woodhead, who is a professor of sociology of religion at Lancaster University, the two argue for a number of reforms and advocate an overhaul to the religious instruction undertaken in the UK schools.

One of the reforms proposed in the report is the abolishment of the current requirement by statute for an act of collective worship (which is predominantly Christian) during assemblies. The report proposes the statute to be removed and the schools governing institutions to decide the nature of the assemblies. The report, according to Clarke, suggests a new arrangement which will be ‘genuine understanding of modern religion and belief, and allow young people explore their own and other people's religious and non-religious beliefs and come to their own conclusions’.

Clarke advances several arguments to support their proposals. First on the issue of the collective act of worship at assemblies in school, Clarke argues that the way it is currently instituted fails to reflect on the current broad British religious and cultural composition. Clarke and Professor Woodhead are opposed to religious education in its current set up since it “allows little or no time for questioning or criticism by pupils and/or ignores (or even distorts or caricatures) other forms of religion and belief and grants them no legitimacy”. Their proposal is for an inclusive, wide and moral and ethics based kind of religious education and want religious instruction left to Sunday Schools, churches, madrassa and homes.

The report has elicited debate in the country as to what should be adopted although most parties agree the current religious education system as instituted currently needs urgent review and overhaul. Already, previous research has indicated many schools are unable to meet or ignore the requirement for a daily act of worship over assemblies. Further research also indicates that attempts to change or strengthen the stature will be met with a number of difficulties which is a situation that informs Clarke and Professor Woodhead’s position that the statute should be scrapped.


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