Academic debates the place of faith in schools

21 February 2012
Senior academic Professor James Conroy, Professor of Religious and Philisophical Education will be taking part in a major debate on the place of "Faith in Schools" at Wednesday 22 February 2012, 5.30-7pm at 61 Whitehall. Also taking part in the discussion is Richard Dawkins, the former Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, Professor Robert Jackson, Director of Warwick Religions and Education Research Unit and John Pritchard, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Oxford and Chair of the Church of England’s Board of Education.

Based on a major three year study of religious education (RE) in Britain between 2008-11, Professor Conroy will argue that the failure to provide high quality religious education is both bad policy and bad ethics.

Professor Conroy says:” What they reveal is that good RE is about something absolutely fundamental: a space for serious, critical exploration of the meanings and values by which we live. To live good lives, individually and together, we need to be able to make sense of the world and ourselves – and RE offers the only place in the curriculum where this can still be done systematically”.

The research was based on in-depth observation and in 23 schools across the UK. The researchers looked at the full spectrum of their activities, both formal and informal and involved a broad range of religious and non religious schools in both urban and rural settings. The researchers identified both good and bad teaching practice which had specific characteristics.

The first characteristic of good RE was close engagement with the community in which the school was located. The best schools for RE were not necessarily religiously denominated but were those schools that recognised the religious composition of the community they serviced and were willing to engage with them – not least their own pupils.

The second characteristic was that teachers do not merely describe the basic ‘phenomena’ of a religion or secular tradition but explore with students the kinds of meanings that underlie ritual, social and personal practices.

However, the researchers concluded that there is a dangerous policy ambivalence about religious education which goes much deeper than the activities of individual schools or teachers.

Professor Conroy says: “Even where RE is taught magnificently, it is so against the odds. RE in Britain is under-resourced, torn between competing aims, and has become overburdened by having to include other subjects (from sex to citizenship). Whilst governments insist on RE’s importance in theory, they marginalise it in practice – as Michael Gove has recently done by refusing to treat it as a core subject and excluding it from the English EBacc.”

 
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