Schools 'should use imams and rabbis in classes'

Education Editor,Richard Garner
Tuesday 25 March 2008 01:00 GMT

State schools would be required to give religious instruction in every pupil's faith under a radical shake-up of education proposed by Britain's biggest teachers' union. Under the plan, Christian schools and community comprehensives must allow the local imam or rabbi in to give religious instruction if they had Muslim or Jewish pupils.

In the handful of Muslim state schools, the local Roman Catholic priest would be allowed in if they had any Catholic pupils.

Leaders of the National Union of Teachers, which backed the move at its conference in Manchester, say it will put a stop to children being taught in segregated schools if they can have access to instruction in their own religion at any school.

In many cities, there are predominantly Muslim schools and nearly all-white schools within short distances of each other.

Steve Sinnott, the union's general secretary, also said it would reduce the demand for new faith schools.

The union's blueprint also calls on all faith schools (there are 7,000 mostly Roman Catholic or Church of England in the state system) to stop discriminating on grounds of belief in deciding on school admissions.

"What I'm trying to do is take out of the education system the demand for more faith schools by making accommodation within all schools for people's faiths," Mr Sinnott said.

"In my view, schools should try and find space within the school day for this religious instruction to take place."

He added that the plan would aid schools in their new legal responsibility to promote community cohesion. Under new government plans, schools which fail to do so could fail their inspections.

Mr Sinnott said he was making "a clear distinction" between religious instruction and religious education. In religious education lessons, a multi-faith approach would still be pursued teaching youngsters about all the great religions.

But the plan met opposition from headteachers and religious leaders.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders – which represents secondary school headteachers – said: "I would have thought this plan could compound the problem if the people coming into schools were offering extreme views. How would you have any control over what was being taught in your school?"

A spokesman for the Church of England added: "It is for religions to teach their faiths to people. It is for schools to teach about religion."

The National Secular Society also attacked the move. Keith Porteous-Wood, its director, said: "Education should be about opening minds not closing them so it is not a legitimate function of the state or any state-funded schools to instruct in a religion – a term abandoned by Parliament 20 years ago. We are shocked that the NUT conference should be proposing this."

Meanwhile, teachers warned yesterday that government moves to introduce language lessons into primary schools were likely to turn pupils off the subject – rather than encourage them to learn it.

Delegates said youngsters would end up being taught by teachers who were not fluent in the language themselves.

John Holmes, for the union's executive, told the conference in Manchester: "Expecting colleagues who aren't fluent in a language now to teach it is unprofessional and negligent. It must be done properly – not on the cheap."

Under the Government's plan, every child will start to learn languages from the age of seven by the end of the decade.

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