A new challenge to the bishops’ authority
In the last few years a series of reports have called for major reforms to Religious Education. The most recent comes from the former home secretary Charles Clarke (pictured) and the academic Linda Woodhead. “We are living,” they write, “through the single biggest change in the religious and cultural landscape of Britain for centuries, even millennia.” Hence the title of their new study: A New Settlement Revised: Religion and Belief in Schools.
Clarke and Woodhead argue that the system is no longer fit for purpose, particularly as “those who say they have ‘no religion’ (but are not necessarily secular) are now the majority”. They recommend 16 changes, including reforms of the RE curriculum, legal requirements, admissions policies and acts of public worship.
Those proposing reform usually make three kinds of suggestions. First, legal change, including an end to RE’s unusual position as a compulsory curriculum subject and to collective worship. Second, curriculum change: a national curriculum or greater priority for non-religious views. Third, structural change with a new role for Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education (SACREs), which advise local authorities on RE.
Most of these recommendations are contrary to what is already enshrined in the 1944 Education Act and would therefore require the law to change.
Many who work in the RE field support these changes, believing that they are necessary to increase social cohesion. But is there a wider appetite for change, among both politicians and the general public?
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