Call for balance in religious education

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LEADERS of non-Christian faiths last night attacked new national syllabuses for religious education to be published today.

Non-Christian members of the working party set up to advise the Government on religious education said the teaching of Christianity threatened to overwhelm that of other faiths.

But John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, overruled the working party's advice and insisted that Christianity should occupy a minimum of 51 per cent of time spent teaching religion, which schools could increase to 75 per cent if they wished. The working party had said no time should be specified.

Representatives of Hindus, Sikhs, Jews and Muslims, who have been working with members of the Christian churches to draw up model syllabuses said they would campaign against Mr Patten's ruling. In a statement, they said they welcomed the religious content of the syllabuses, which will not be compulsory in schools, but they demanded a fairer balance of faiths.

Laurie Rosenberg, the Jewish representative, said the working party did not want to specify the percentage of time spent on each religion 'because religious education cannot be described in percentage terms or in a bar chart. We are talking about the development of a child's whole spirituality.'

A spokesman for the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, which set up the group, said: 'We understood that members of the other faiths had agreed the documents, which are going out to consultation.

'We believe that the non-Christian faiths have never before had such a high profile or such an opportunity to present their beliefs.'

Peter Smith, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, also criticised the syllabuses, saying many religious leaders would feel the Government was interfering in religious matters.

'The Government seems to be ignoring the fact that we live in a community which is increasingly pluralistic,' he said.