Parents should be stopped from withdrawing children from religious education over Islam lessons, headteachers say

Nearly three in four say law allowing selective removal from classes is not needed

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Thursday 27 June 2019 17:38 BST
Thousands across Europe march in protest against racial and religious discrimination

Parents should not be allowed to selectively remove their children from religious education (RE) lessons, headteachers say, as study reveals many withdrawal requests are over the teaching of Islam.

More than two in five school leaders and RE teachers have received requests for students to be withdrawn from teaching about one religion, research from Liverpool Hope University has revealed.

Islam is the dominant focus of these parental withdrawal requests, according to the study of 450 school leaders and heads of RE.

One participant, who received requests for children to be withdrawn from mosque visits said: “The students that have been removed are the ones that need to understand different cultures the most.”

The majority (71 per cent) of teachers believe a law allowing parents to withdraw their children from RE is no longer required, according to the study in the British Journal of Religious Education.

It comes after a report from Thurrock council revealed that parents in Essex were withdrawing their children from religious education lessons on Islam and stopping them from visiting mosques.

Iman Atta, director of Tell Mama, an activist group which records and measures anti-Muslim incidents in Britain, told The Independent: “We have been hearing about cases where parents are pulling their children out of mosque visits as part of religious education since they do not want them to be near a mosque.

“This has been taking place over the last five years and shows that there are parents who have fears or dislike Islam. This is also concerning, since what kinds of views are their children being exposed to? It does not bode well for the future of people and communities living together”.

The right of parents to withdraw their children from RE and from collective worship has been in enshrined in law by both the 1944 and 1988 education acts. Parents can withdraw their children from some or all of the RE curriculum without giving a reason.

Teachers warned in April last year that parents were increasingly abusing the right to withdraw their children from religious education lessons due to their prejudices.

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Members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers section of the National Education Union called on the government to take steps to prevent parents from selectively withdrawing youngsters from RE classes.

“Cases of parents withdrawing selectively from teaching of one religion, predominantly Islam, were often presented by participants as representing a hostility and intolerance to those of other faiths,” the new research says.

But it concludes: “While it was true that Islam’s prominence as a target for withdrawal implies prejudice, our findings suggest that teachers saw the reasons for this withdrawal as misunderstanding more than prejudice.”

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