Teacher's proposals on religion in schools provoke big debate

By staff writers
March 28, 2008

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) has caused a heated debate with a proposal that instead of single-faith schools funded by the public, all schools should become practising multi-faith institutions.

The NUT says that existing faith schools can thereby be stripped of their powers to control their own admissions, select pupils according to their religion, and screen out teachers or heads who do not belong to a particular faith - provisions which both secular and religious critics say are unafir and unjust.

But the quid pro quo is that pupils from different faith backgrounds should be offered instruction in their own religion, provided with prayer facilities and offered a choice of religious holidays. The legally required daily act of “mainly Christian” worship would be widened to include all faiths, the NUT’s annual report suggests.

The idea, mooted in the annual report of Britain's largest teaching union has annoyed the National Secular Society and a range of educational commentators.

Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society think tank Ekklesia, which has been critical of faith schools, says that bold thinking is needed but that the National Union of Teachers needs to reflect further.

Writing on OpenDemocracy, he said: "As a way of provoking a debate, this is bold but problematic. The idea is that strong religious lobbies can be brought on board with publicly funded schools being for pupils of all backgrounds (a wholly laudable aim) by making special provision for faith formation within, not in addition to, the normal patterns of school life."

He continued: "As part of the recognition of the place of schools in their local and global communities, it is also right that provision should be made for believers to have space for voluntary devotions and for after-school activities related to their beliefs - in exactly the same way as other clubs, social and non-religious cultural activities are recognised. This is something that both believers and non-believers should be able to support, in addition to properly pedagogic (informative and evaluative) education within the curriculum concerning our different life stances and beliefs.

"But what the NUT seems to be proposing, on the other hand, goes in a very different direction - towards making “confessional” (conviction based) religious teaching a core school activity. That confuses the role of the school with that of the church, mosque, temple, gurdwara or synagogue. Moreover, as currently conceived, a ‘multi-faith agenda’ will not make proper provision, as it should, for the needs of the growing number of non-religious pupils", concluded Barrow.

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