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Thoughts on Faith – Headmaster’s Blog – Tuesday 1st Decemeber – Ballard School

November 30, 2015

There has been significant debate in the Press this week oAlastair Reid low resver the position of Religious Studies (RS) in the curriculum. At the start of the week we learnt that the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, had made ‘an error in law’ (according to the High Court) in leaving non-religious world views out of the new GCSE syllabus for RS. Nicky Morgan’s lawyers had argued that no laws in the UK or Europe required equal weight to be given to both religious and non-religious views in a school curriculum. Mr Justice Warby, however, ruled there had been “a breach of the duty to take care that information or knowledge included in the curriculum is conveyed in a pluralistic manner”. A Department for Education spokesman said: “We will carefully consider the judgement before deciding on our next steps” (as reported in ‘The Times’ and elsewhere).

Later in the week ‘The Times’ also reported that Religious Education in schools should be renamed “belief learning” because it is too closely associated with Christianity. This article quoted from a report by researchers at Goldsmiths, University of London, which questioned 331 teachers, pupils and parents about the way the subject is taught and found strong support for it but confusion about its purpose and focus. They backed a switch to “belief learning” or “religion and belief learning” as part of an overhaul that would include giving the subject a national curriculum and setting out approved content. Adam Dinham, the lead author, said: “Changes in the real religious landscape have far outpaced changes in education about it”.

In the weekend ‘papers (especially ‘The Times’, ‘The Telegraph’ and the ‘Independent’) we see a number of commentators offering their thoughts on the news that pupils at non-faith schools must study atheism. I have to say that I am pleased to see RS given a National airing. It has been a somewhat beleaguered subject at school in recent years, not least when the former Education Secretary, Michael Gove, decided not to include it as a Humanity in the so-called English Baccalaureate at GCSE. I am also pleased to note that whilst Ballard is not a ‘faith school’, we do have a Christian foundation (and are recognised by the Secretary of State as such), which allows us to give Christianity a central place in our School whilst embracing those of all faiths and those of none. Our assemblies are principally Christian and aim to be inclusive of all and do not demand adherence to a dogma but stress the importance of understanding and tolerance. In RS lessons across the school we do study world religions as well as non-faith positions. For example, in our Year 9 course (the last year of compulsory RS at Ballard) we look at Philosophy and Religion which enables a study of philosophers such as Sartre, Feuerbach and Pascale who cast doubt on faith as well as Paley and Aquinas who sought to defend a belief in God.

I don’t have a strong view about what to call RS – ‘religion and belief learning’ may well catch on – but I do feel passionately that in the UK where Christianity has been the predominant religion for centuries, and according to the 2011 census is still the majority faith of the inhabitants of the country, that the Christian faith should remain central to any RS curriculum. We can certainly give some time to consider non-faiths, and must include major world religions, but we should keep matters in perspective. After all, a ‘Telegraph’ reader points out in today’s edition that according to the Office of National Statistics, humanists number 15,607 in England and wales, but there are 176,632 Jedi Knights! ‘Changes in the religious landscape’ certainly move on apace but the Christian faith more than endures and will thrive under debate and questioning – and that’s why I welcome the Press interest.

Alastair Reid – Headmaster

We tweet regularly @BallardSchool

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