‘Clarke plans will wreck church schools’

The Christian Institute has strongly criticised a raft of proposals on religious education from former Education Secretary Charles Clarke.

It says the plans would “wreck church schools”, further secularise the education system and lead to the compulsory teaching of non-theistic views such as humanism, atheism and even Marxism within RE.

The wide-ranging plans include the Government seizing control of religious education in church schools, and requiring all schools to teach humanism – a belief system held by just 15,067 people, according to the 2011 Census.

Humanist policies

The ideas are contained in a report co-authored by Mr Clarke who pays tribute to the help of Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association (BHA).

The report entitled “A New Settlement: Religion and Belief in Schools”, backs many policies endorsed by the BHA including reviewing the freedom of church schools to appoint Christian teachers.

The report calls for:

  • The scrapping of the law on daily Christian assemblies in schools
  • A new national religious education syllabus drafted in consultation with “representatives of religions, humanism and other belief systems”
  • The Government to consider forcing all independent schools, as well as all state schools, to adopt the proposed new national syllabus
  • The ending of the right of parents to withdraw their children from religious education when the new national RE syllabus is implemented
  • The stopping of all school Christian Unions or any state funded school with a Christian ethos from permitting any “religious instruction” on school premises during the school day, even if there is no “coercion, or distortion of other religions or beliefs”
  • Reconsideration of the ability of church schools to control the inspection of their own collective worship and RE
  • A steady tightening of the inspection regime for independent schools, including Christian schools
  • Review of the current arrangements which allow schools with a Christian ethos to recruit Christian teachers, claiming there are “legitimate concerns about their necessity and their effects”.
  • Secularising

    Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute, said:

    “These proposals would have a radical secularising impact on education. Religious education would be nationalised and imposed even on church schools and independent schools. For the first time RE would also be imposed on children, with parents losing their right of withdrawal.

    “The focus in the press has been the call to scrap Christian assemblies, but the proposals are much more wide-ranging. Read the small print and you discover that church schools would in effect be stripped of their ethos, losing control over their religious teaching and staff appointments. Absurd plans to have a law against religious “instruction” would mean stopping any promotion of Christianity in any school. It would plunge teachers running Christian Unions into fear and confusion.

    “Requiring non-theistic faiths to be taught within RE is not only wrong in principle, it also opens the door to the sort of politicised teaching which took place prior to the 1988 Education Act. At that time there were attempts to include Communism and Marxism within official RE syllabuses in Birmingham and Dudley.

    Sorry state

    “The RE curriculum in state schools is already in a sorry state. It is being squeezed on the timetable in many schools, and the breadth of the syllabuses in terms of the sheer number of religions covered is already far too wide. Children are often given a very superficial understanding of Christianity, with below 40 per cent knowing that Jesus died on Good Friday. There simply is not time to add in non-theistic faiths.

    “I am amazed that Charles Clarke has put his name to this report. The plans radically secularise our education system. They would wreck church schools and make them wide open to legal action from secular campaign groups like the British Humanist Association.”