Letter: Misconceptions about RE

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your continued interest in religious education in schools is immensely gratifying to those of us professionally engaged in it. However, between them your report and leading article (17 December) gave credence to three increasingly widespread misconceptions.

First there is no legal requirement for county schools to devote at least half of the time given to RE to Christianity. County schools must implement a locally agreed syllabus which must now 'reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian, while taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain'. This legislative requirement certainly implies that Christianity must feature clearly in a school's RE programme, but whether it requires more than 50 per cent Christianity is a moot point which in time may be settled by a court.

Second, there is no law requiring primary schools, or secondary schools for that matter, to allocate one hour a week to RE. The legislative requirements are for RE to be part of the curriculum for all pupils (other than those withdrawn by their parents) and for it to be in accordance with the local agreed syllabus. There are certainly recommendations emanating from a variety of bodies suggesting 5 per cent of curriculum time (just over an hour a week) as an appropriate allocation for the subject but they have no legislative force.

Third, you are wrong to say that the current system whereby local conferences produce syllabuses for each local authority area is to be replaced by a system 'in which broad guidelines are set from the centre within which schools themselves may choose'. The model syllabuses being prepared by the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority will be available to local agreed syllabus conferences for them to consider and then adopt, adapt or reject.

It is unlikely, for example, that such conferences will regard a syllabus which confined teaching in the infant years to Christianity and Judaism as suitable for schools with large numbers of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs.

Yours faithfully,

ROGER BUTLER

London, SW18

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