The content of RE lessons is decided by local conferences without guidance from the Government. A survey this year found that most syllabuses broke the law.
Baroness Blatch, Minister of State for Education, wrote yesterday to Sir Ron Dearing, new head of the advisory body on curriculum and testing, asking him to develop a range of national model syllabuses. 'I know you share my concern to rescue religious education from the poor status it too often holds in non-denominational schools and to raise standards.'
She said a single compulsory syllabus would be inappropriate. Local conferences would be able to use the new syllabuses and yet remain sensitive to the backgrounds of pupils.
Sir Ron welcomed Lady Blatch's request, pointing out that he has emphasized the need to provide 'adequate time and guidance for the spiritual, moral, cultural and social development of pupils, and for religious education'.
John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, announced five months ago that national model syllabuses would be developed.
Working parties from six religions, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs, have produced papers outlining the essential elements of their faiths which they believe should be included in the curriculum and details of what children should know at seven, 11, 14 and 16.
Gwen Palmer, chairperson of the National Religious Education Council, which has representatives, including teachers, from different faiths, said: 'These model syllabuses could be extremely helpful to local conferences without taking away their flexibility and choice.'
She said several syllabuses were needed because it might be appropriate for children in an area where one faith predominated to concentrate on that in the early years.
Under the law all syllabuses must put the greatest emphasis on Christianity and give a balanced view of other religions. The time spent on other religions might vary.
Draft syllabuses, which are intended for county, not church, schools, will be prepared for consultation by the new year and their final form will be announced next summer.
Present syllabuses have been drawn up to meet the requirements of the 1988 Education Act but all have failed to do so. Most do not reflect the fact that the main religious tradition in Britain is
Lady Blatch said: 'Too often religious education is the poor relation of the secular curriculum in schools.
'Model syllabuses will help to set a higher standard. . . and illustrate how all our children can gain an understanding both of Christianity as an important part of our cultural heritage and of the other principal religions represented in this country.'
She said she had asked Sir Ron, new chairman of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, to work with teachers and faith communities in drawing up the new syllabuses. The department is to issue new guidance in the autumn.
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