Letter: A lesson in teaching religion

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There are two groups of people who misunderstand the nature of religion in this country. The first maintain that nothing - including the school assembly - has changed since the end of the war; nor indeed should it. The second declare that British societyin the 1990s is almost entirely secular; religious assemblies are, it follows, obsolete. Certain kinds of Conservative MPs are over-represented in the former group; media intellectuals are disproportionately present in the latter.

Neither image is accurate. Britain is an unchurched society but far from secular; it is also extraordinarily diverse. Most of rural Britain and quite a number of her smaller cities remain relatively untouched by the arrival of substantial other faith communities in the post-war period. A few larger cities, in contrast, host a wide range of religious minorities.

How does the school assembly fit into such diversity? A successful policy must be realistic, modest and flexible. It should be based on examples of good practice which can be found - indeed they abound if you care to look for them - in every type of context and depend, for the most part, on key individuals. Such individuals may, but need not be full-time members of a school's staff. Good practice should, moreover, be sought in this country, not elsewhere. The grass on the other side of the fence is not greener: the French have as much difficulty keeping religion out of their schools as we do keeping it in.

Worship and religious education are separate activities; that is true. But children learn by doing. The challenge is to ensure that they do it well

Dr Grace Davie Department of Sociology University of Exeter

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