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A question of faith

Karen Goddard's daughter said to her that only her teacher and the vicar tell her about God; her mother doesn't. (`Don't forget God is watching you, Mummy', EDUCATION, 4 November) Mrs Goddard then goes on to ask why (as an atheist) should she, and for that matter why should the teacher and the vicar?

The answer to the first part is that if you want your children to share your faith you have to tell them about it. If your faith is that there is no God, but you know that there are millions of us out there who will tell them that there is, you have to explain why you think we are wrong.

As for "...why should they?", telling people about God and fostering faith is a vicar's entire reason for existing! As for the teacher, this country's law and government is based on a belief in God, which is why there is a legal requirement to have religious assemblies. Also, if you hold a faith, it is the most important foundation of your life. It is simply not possible to discuss your own faith in a disinterested way. You have a duty to be an example and to help others, if possible, to believe.

KEVIN LOGAN

Redditch, Worcs

My daughters, too, have returned from primary school singing religious songs. But unlike Ms Goddard, I have no compunction in rebutting every statement made. If the established church evangelises in this manner, then there is every reason for parents to evangelise their opinions too.

My eldest daughter, six, is now quite capable of understanding the difference between facts and beliefs. I have no doubt that would not have come about unless I had refuted the church's evangelising.

NICKY ENNION

Tynemouth, North Tyneside

The dilemma described by Karen Goddard is all too familiar to the atheist, agnostic and humanist parents who join the British Humanist Association or contact us for support and advice. Most of them, like Ms Goddard, appreciate the contribution that religious education can make to their children's understanding of other people's world views, and do not wish to exercise their legal right to withdraw their child.

But they would be far happier with the subject if the world view of non- believers were treated as respectfully as that of religious people. As it is, many parents find they have to undo at home what they consider to be indoctrination, or at least convey to their children that what they have learnt at school in RE as fact is actually only what some people believe. This is not something they usually feel the need to do for other school subjects.

Religious education syllabuses "must not be designed to convert pupils, or to urge a particular religion or religious belief on pupils" (Department for Education and Employment circular, January 1994). Whatever the guidance, much depends on the awareness and communication skills of individual teachers. Many of them think they are being impartial because they are unconscious of the biases (usually in favour of their own religion) conveyed in their choices of language, tasks and assessment criteria (for example, the use of the word "creation" in connection with the natural world in primary school resources).

Religious education could be one of the most exciting and challenging subjects on the curriculum. A major step forward would be to rename it: Religious and Moral Education (as in Scotland), or Education in Beliefs and Values, or Philosophy (as in some other European countries). All imply a more balanced and objective subject, with much broader appeal.

MARILYN MASON

Education Officer, British Humanist Association

Karen Goddard is confusing religious education with the daily act of collective worship.

These two areas, while linked, must be seen as separate entities with different objectives. RE should indeed present all religions, including Christianity, in an educational context, but at Key Stage 1 it would be hoped that there would be an equal emphasis on implicit RE where children are helped to consider aspects of their lives. Taught in this way, it should not "pose a dilemma for atheist parents" as the aim is not to convert, but to educate children so that they are in a position to make up their own mind about how they relate to religious issues and understand the perspective of those who choose to adhere to a religion.

By all means complain about schools' legal obligation to provide a daily act of collective worship, but religious education is much more than this!

JEAN M BROWN

Chelmsford, Essex

Nurses in school

I was very sad to read the report on the "treatment" of a child having a severe asthma attack at school. (`The day asthma-sufferer Katie was found with a paper bag over her head', EDUCATION, 28 Oct).

Is this school in an area where the school nurses are no longer employed by the local Community Health Trust? Where there is a school nurse, "inset days" can be used to educate staff on what to do to help children cope with many health conditions - there are also many community-based bodies which offer advice.

Let's hope school staff will realise that they have a right to ask for this information and health trusts have a duty to provide it.

R L SMITH RGN, RSCN, ONC (School Nurse)

Dulwich, London

Student parents

The article about Alexandra Burslem (`The pay discrimination that's deterring women academics', EDUCATION, 4 November) highlights only too clearly the welcome change of attitude within HE towards student parents. The statement, "She had to leave the first year of a history degree at Cambridge University to have a baby", would simply not apply now. Whilst it requires an extraordinary degree of courage to complete a degree course as a parent, many now do so in Cambridge, with support from tutors and friends. The high chair in the Pembroke Hall makes this point admirably.

SUSAN STOBBS

Director of Admissions for Cambridge Colleges,

Pembroke College, Cambridge

In the post graduate listings on 28 October, the phone number for Sheffield Hallam was incorrect. The correct number is 0114 225 4054

Please send your letters to: Wendy Berliner, Editor, EDUCATION, `The Independent', One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL (include a day-time phone number). Fax letters to: 0171-293 2451; e-mail: educ@independent.co.uk; letters may be edited for length and clarity.

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