Christianity at heart of curriculum fight: Proposals for religious education anger liberals. Judith Judd reports

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The Independent Online
TRADITIONAL Christians and liberals will confront each other today over proposals to secure a predominant place for Christianity in new national religious education syllabuses.

Liberals are angry that the draft syllabuses to be finalised at today's meeting of Government advisers would allow schools to spend 87 per cent of RE time in primary schools on Christianity.

They say that the options will mean teachers can proselytise for Christianity rather than educating pupils about religion, and that they will alienate pupils and parents of other faiths. They also believe that the syllabuses have been changed because of pressure from fundamentalist Christians who have influence with ministers.

Traditionalists are equally indignant about options which would mean schools spent only just over half their RE time on Christianity, which they believe should predominate because it is such an important part of Britain's heritage.

John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, called for national model syllabuses earlier this year after research revealed that most RE syllabuses, which are agreed by local conferences with representatives of different faith groups, did not conform with the law. Under the law, schools must spend at least half their RE time studying Christianity and should also develop children's knowledge and understanding of other religions.

Mr Patten originally spoke of a range of syllabuses from which local conferences could choose. Just two will be considered today by the RE syllabus steering group set up by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority.

The two models were drawn up by officials after consultation with teachers, RE lecturers and faith groups. The first is based on 'the knowledge and understanding of what it means to be a member of a faith community' and the second on 'key ideas of religions'.

The draft proposals, parts of which have been seen by the Independent, show that local conferences who wanted to include the maximum Christianity could choose that pupils aged five to seven should study only Christianity and Judaism, while 7- to 11-year-olds would be taught only Christianity (occupying 87 per cent of the time) and Islam. Fourteen- year-olds would do Christianity plus Hinduism and Sikhism, while 16-year-olds would look at Christianity and Buddhism.

By contrast, if a conference chose to limit teaching on Christianity to the minimum, Christianity could be taught at all stages, plus Sikhism and Hinduism for seven-year-olds, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism for 11-year-olds, Islam, Sikhism and Buddhism for 14-year-olds and Judaism and Hinduism for 16-year-olds.

The syllabuses agreed on today will be sent to the authority for approval and will be published next month.

In model one, seven-year-old pupils should find out about how Christians care for others; in Sikhism, about the significance of sharing food.

At 11, how the Bible is read in church services or Christian marriage ceremonies; and about Hindu marriage rituals.

At 14, the effect of Christian values on Britain and important Christians past and present; and about Jewish identity and the Diaspora.

At 16, the contribution of Christianity to social reform through the Salvation Army and Oxfam, and the Shariah tax for the church in Islamic countries.

In model two, seven-year- old pupils should look at people they admire. In Christianity, the saints; and how members of the Buddhist community help each other.

At 11, the 10 Commandments and Jesus's two commandments; in Islam, family life and respect for children and elders. At 14, values for daily life and forgiveness, love and service in Christianity; and Jewish family rituals such as grace and the wedding service. At 16, the nature and truth of God. This might mean asking why people believe from the perspective of more than one religion.

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