Primary school children in England should learn about obscure world faiths and humanism in Religious Education, according to new Government guidance.
Critics have attacked the recommendations as a “multi-faith mish-mash” and warned that they herald an approach focussed on trivial aspects of religious expression.
All schools in England must teach RE, but it is not part of the National Curriculum. Instead, schools teach a syllabus developed at a local level in partnership with local authorities and faith groups. Faith schools can teach the syllabus in accordance with their own ethos.
The Government’s new programme of learning and RE guidance documents are intended to “give local authorities and schools more ideas and support on how to develop their local RE curriculum”.
The programme is not mandatory, but most primary schools are expected to make use of it.
In keeping with schools’ current practice, the programme of learning prioritises teaching on Christianity and five other “principal religions”: Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism.
However, for the first time it also recommends that children study “other religious traditions such as the Baha’i faith, Jainism, and Zoroastrianism, and secular world views, such as humanism”.
The programme covers all primary school stages. The youngest pupils are expected to “explore a range of religious and moral stories and sacred writings, and talk about their meanings”.
Launching the new programme of learning, Schools Minister Diana Johnson MP said: “In 21st century Britain, it is vital that young people develop a good understanding of other people’s beliefs, faiths and religions.
“This means learning about Christianity and other religions like Islam, Hinduism and Judaism, but also considering other secular beliefs such as humanism and atheism.”
However, critics have labelled the new approach a “multi-faith mish-mash”.
Colin Hart, director of The Christian Institute, said: “The idea of having multi-faith RE isn’t new but they seem to be adding ever more religions to it.
“There are now even things that aren’t religions at all such as humanism. If humanism is added, why not political beliefs?”
Earlier this month it was reported that thousands of pupils are not having Christian assemblies because their schools have applied for legal exemptions.
230 schools have been given so-called “determinations” which mean they do not have to give assemblies that are “wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character”.
These schools have replaced the Christian assemblies with Islamic or ‘multi-faith’ assemblies.
Last year one exam board announced a new GCSE Religious Studies course which features coverage of Druidism, Rastafarianism and the “rise of atheism”.
The “groundbreaking” new Religion and Belief in Today’s World course largely excludes the Bible and other religious texts.
Instead, pupils study “community cohesion and valuing diversity” in order to help them “make sense of religion in the modern world”.