It is tragic that the image of Religious Education – which can be so beneficial in school – is being hijacked by the faults that occur in the current system.
Part of the problem is that RE is a statutory subject and has to be taught, but it is not part of the National Curriculum and so RE can be taught in any way. It means that while some schools follow a multi-faith syllabus, others limit their pupils to one faith.
This has been exacerbated by the freedoms given to Academy and Free Schools, which can be used creatively but are also open to abuse by those wishing to blinker their pupils into a single world-view.
It would be much healthier to have a National Curriculum for RE, with all schools having to teach all belief-systems (including humanism), providing a balanced, inclusive education.
This would be partly a matter of general knowledge, and partly as preparation for citizenship, so that children are equipped to emerge into a diverse society.
Parents certainly have a right to transmit their religious heritage, but it should not be done via the state but by home life or after-school classes or church, synagogue, mosque and gurdwara. Schools should educate, not indoctrinate.
This begs the question of whether faith schools should be allowed to ghettoise children in the first place – Catholics in one place, Muslims in another, Jews somewhere else.
The big issue is not what sort of educational system is best, but what type of society do we want to produce?
It is not good for children to be like Rapunzel – locked away in her tower – because isolation is a poor teacher for later life, and it is not wise if the next generation grow up disconnected.
In this context, it is fascinating to see what is happening in Northern Ireland, where there is a surge in parents opting for Integrated Schools, where children from all faiths attend and grow up together. We should learn from the Province’s solutions, not emulate its mistakes.
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain is chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education