As schools throughout the country review their religious instruction programmes, I hope that the level of understanding of what the programmes involve is improved with the years of media coverage about the “bible in schools” issue and that the information that they provide to parents is unbiased, clear and informative. It is disappointing when I see policies like that of Beachlands School being shamelessly promoted to parents without any unbiased information at all. Here is the information they offered. My response to them is below.
Beachlands School Religious Instruction Policy
We provide the opportunity for religious education for children whose parents approve of it. Parental approval is given or withheld at enrolment.
The board approves that Religious Education may be held at the school for half an hour per week as allowed under the provisions of the Education Act, Clause 77,78.
Religious instruction develops children’s spiritual dimension by encouraging an understanding and appreciation of religious beliefs and values through a non-denominational programme of instruction. This programme is available for parents’ perusal.
The following rules apply to our religious instruction programme:
- All students in designated classes have the opportunity to receive Religious Education (given the availability of resources and the approval of parents).
- No student is excluded because their parent is unwilling or unable to pay any costs associated with the programme.
- Students not taking part are supervised independently of the religious instruction programme by teaching staff.
- Classes participating in this programme are deemed to be closed during the period of instruction, as required by the Act.
- All Religious Education teachers follow the programme of instruction as made available to the board and parents before the start of the year’s programme.
- All teaching avoids putting pressure on the children to adhere to particular religious beliefs or views.
- Members of the school teaching staff may conduct religious instruction.
In your newsletter of 25th Feb 2019, you set out your religious instruction policy.
However, you repeatedly referred to it as religious education, which is something entirely different. Religious Instruction is the teaching of religious faith, NOT education about religion. That is the purpose of the clauses that you quoted from the Education Act 1964. Otherwise, the classes would have to be a truly secular religious education class and these religious instruction “faith-teaching” classes could not legally be held within a secular state school.
Not only did you use the wrong term but you suggest that;
“Religious instruction develops children’s spiritual dimension by encouraging an understanding and appreciation of religious beliefs and values through a non-denominational programme of instruction.”
This is incredibly misleading. The classes are entirely Christian-based, designed to encourage Christian faith and do not teach about any religious view other than Christianity.
A few points to note…
- Requiring families to opt out their children and forcing their children to stop curriculum learning to enable you to promote one religion is inherently discriminatory.
- Promotion of one religion in a secular school is a direct reflection of Board of Trustees bias against people of different beliefs.
- Voting within the Board of Trustees or even holding a community vote does not justify the classes. It shows what is popular with the people who voted. It is an imposition of the religious values the majority on a minority. An odd way to promote “values”.
If you are truly concerned with promoting good values at your school, I would encourage you to be inclusive rather than divisive. I would encourage you to not support the segregation of children by the religious views of their parents.
As recent events have shown, what we need is more understanding of different cultures and religions, not partition of children by colour, culture or faith.