Head Teachers' union wants RE lessons opt-out scrapped

Head Teachers' union wants RE lessons opt-out scrapped May 2, 2016

Parents in the UK currently have the right to pull their children out of religious education lessons, but senior teachers warned at the weekend that the rule is undermining their work.
The National Association of Head Teachers passed a motion, almost unanimously, that calls on the executive of the NAHT:

To negotiate with the Department for Education to revoke the existing legal framework which entitles parents to be able to withdraw their children from Religious Education.

Speaking in favour of the motion to strip parents of the right to withdraw their children from RE, Hilary Alcock, head teacher of Buntingsdale Primary School and Nursery in Shropshire, above, said schools needed to show that:

They respect what is important to pupils and make RE and entitlement for all. Parents may know their children best, but they may not always know what is best for them.
What is best for them is they grow up in modern Britain maybe outside of their own experience and their child’s primary socialisation.

Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, head of Anderton Park School in Birmingham who seconded of the motion, said RE was key to shield children from potential “groomers and radicalisers” who exploit differences.
And Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, above, told the conference:

If it’s laughable that we would withdraw our children from English or science why is it OK to withdraw from RE?
We share many beliefs as human beings and are usually very different in a few. This is diversity and a good thing. Allowing withdrawal is not inclusive, it’s divisive.
Groomers and radicalisers exploit the ‘us and them’ syndrome, they exploit ignorance and narrow views of life. Radicalisation specifically encourages only feel and do.
Learning about the teaching of love, not hate, has to be a good thing. Designing a Christmas card does not make you a Christian, visiting a Sikh temple does not make you a Sikh, being interested in Ramadan does not make a Muslim. They make you a participant in life.

Tony Hegarty, an NAHT member from Liverpool, said some parents used the rules to get their children out of certain aspects of religious education.

It saddens me to say that sometimes parents only exercise the right to withdraw children from RE when the topics being studied are Hinduism, Judaism or Islam, and that I think is an extremely divisive mechanism.

Hat tip: BarrieJohn

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  • barriejohn

    This was my comment on the Mail site, and only ONE red arrow so far!
    It all depends, as C.E.M. Joad would have said, on what you mean by Religious Education. If that means education ABOUT religion, then, yes, that should be compulsory as part of every child’s education, but if it means religious indoctrination, then children should not be subjected to that, even in the home.
    Most comments are in the same vein, but you have to sympathize with this:
    So, while the schools near me in RE: teach that young earth creationism is a fact; teach the bible as literal historical truth; bring in fundamentalist evangelical organisations to preach bible truth; in addition to daily prayers and hymns to the glory of God and boast about how the school has a strong Christian ethos, all in a official secular state school. But if I opt out, I’m the one trying to make the child an extremist?! Some schools might be nice about it, but some schools are pure indoctrination. Opt out must be allowed.

  • Broga

    I don’t trust devout Christians who will promise anything to provide opportunities to indoctrinate children into their beliefs. Devout Christians are so convinced that their biblical “truth” is the only truth that anyone who disagrees must be wrong.

  • Newspaniard

    @barriejohn. I’m with you to a certain extent although I would much prefer religion to be totally absent from the UK education system. The closure of all religion based schools would be good for the children too.

  • Cali Ron

    barriejohn: Removing the opt out is a slippery slope. I’d be OK with it as long as they can guarantee that every teacher is an atheist, but this appears to be an obvious attempt by christians to increase their influence and indoctrinate the children.
    “…said RE was key to shield children from potential “groomers and radicalisers” who exploit differences.” They ARE the groomers and radicalisers and the classes are the vehicle used to deliver said radicalization. History has demonstrated that the seriously deluded religious cannot be trusted to be objective and not cross over the line and attempt to proselytize.

  • L.Long

    Easy! Attach a 2nd part to the bill saying that the students can’t opt-out of proper sex ed as well…and the screaming starts in 5-4-3…..

  • Kamashima san

    My son came home from school when he was 7 declaring he was a christian and belived in jesus and god. He is 16 now and an atheist with a healty disregard for religions. But the primary school he attended only last week nailed a large wooden cruciform instrument of torture and capital punishment to the front wall of the school in plain view of the village green and all passing traffic. And this is in a small Northants village … in 2016 … it seems the pious are exerting their intent again. The christians want to conscript kids as the fodder for the next generation of bigots.
    As for this excremental comment …’Parents may know their children best, but they may not always know what is best for them’. I know my kids and I know what is best for them and it is not christianity or and other religion. If kids were not malleable and susceptible to religious infection then the pious would have no interest in teaching them. The pious need kids to procreate their stupid divisive dangerpous childish dogma.Thats it. Thats why the likes of the egregious disingenuous and fundamentalist Nicky Morgan are in politics.To enforce religion by law.

  • barriejohn

    Kamashima: I agree with what you say about Nicky Morgan, but the motion was actually proposed by the NAHT. The problem is that she and those like her are coming at this from a completely different angle to the rest of us; they see RE as an “opportunity” to teach children what she euphemistically refers to as “shared beliefs”, but secularists envisage a situation where children are exposed to the fact that there are other ways of interpreting the world than those of their fundamentalist parents. I would have thought that it was a simple thing for the government to ensure that all religious education was non-sectarian, even if the headteacher does believe that “God” has sent him to enlighten his charges, but, obviously, with “free schools” being given carte blanche, things are set to get a lot worse, not better.

  • Kamashima san

    Yes yes yes bj … I know all that! The headteacher of my village primary school was the one who nailed up the cross the the front of the school. So I know what many Primary HTs are like … evangelistic fundamentalists christians who have clawed their way to headship in order to exert dogmatic authority and influence over children. Her predecessor was a very christian evangelising headteacher. He was the one responsible for making my son think he was a christian. So I became a governor to attentuate his evangelising influence. I managed to put a stop to prayers at governors meetings and I put an end to the little altar in the main classroom, resplendent with lit candles and swags of lacy cloth on the grounds of fire risk. I called in the local FPO to back up my condemnation of the little holy shrine. H&S does have its advantageous spin offs.

  • barriejohn

    Kamashima: As an ex-schoolteacher I know exactly what you mean. No one is going to speak out against these martinets because they know that if they do they can wave goodbye to any chance of promotion! However, if you were a teacher in a school full of Muslim children, I think you might agree with the headteachers here, and it is in that sort of situation that they are claiming that teachers know better than parents, and who could argue with that? It is outrageous that children in Britain today should grow up with no knowledge of belief systems other than their own, and what we used to refer to as Comparative Religion would certainly seem a step in the right direction in addressing this. It is never claimed (other than by fundamentalist believers) that schools shouldn’t claim to know better than parents when it comes to science teaching, though we did face a virtual rebellion of parents (mainly from the RAF base, funnily enough) over “Modern Maths”, and a parents’ meeting addressed by the headmaster and head of department was needed to iron out THAT one!

  • How very diverse, how very vibrant, how very multi-cultural, how very left wing.

  • AgentCormac

    ‘Parents may know their children best, but they may not always know what is best for them.’
    Bloody disgraceful. And while I’m sure there are lots of parents out there who wish to immunise their children from other brands of insanity becuase they think their’s is somehow the only one that’s right, every sane parent should have the option to shield their children from all forms of the disease that is religion. And contact with that disease is not best for any child. None.

  • Robert Stovold

    “If it’s laughable that we would withdraw our children from English or science why is it OK to withdraw from RE? ”
    Hmm. Perhaps it’s because English and science don’t legitimise mutually excusive superstitions? And because English and science are useful?
    “If all the achievements of scientists were wiped out tomorrow, there would be no doctors but witch doctors, no transport faster than horses, no computers, no printed books, no agriculture beyond subsistence peasant farming. If all the achievements of theologians were wiped out tomorrow, would anyone notice the smallest difference?” – Richard Dawkins

  • John Dowdle

    Robert Stovold:
    Great quote from Richard Dawkins.
    I have copied and saved it for future use.
    Thank you.

  • RussellW

    I had to read the article twice, incredible.
    RE has no place in any secular education system, so it should not be an argument about ‘opting out’ or ‘opting in’. Primary school children must be protected from religious indoctrination. RE is not an ‘entitlement’ it’s an imposition. Why are we still fighting these battles in 2016?

  • Daz

    I’m with barriejohn on this. RE, when taught properly (“comparative religion”—learning about religions, rather than being indoctrinated into one) is a valuable subject.
    Firstly, if half the world or more is intent on advocating policy based on the views of a bogeyman, then it doesn’t really matter whether that bogeyman is real or imaginary; children still need to grow up with enough knowledge of bogeyman-derived views to be able to deal with them.
    And secondly, my own personal experience is that it very much aided me in learning what the world looks like through other people’s eyes. Doesn’t mean I have to agree with them or offer them excuses—to understand all is not to forgive all—but I don’t see how it’s possible to disagree with any ideology unless you first understand that ideology and how it affects the views of those who hold to it.

  • barriejohn

    Daz: I agree with all that you say. I think that there has been a misunderstanding over what the terribly “left-wing, multi-cultural” NAHT is calling for. They are talking about “the study of religion” rather than the teaching of religion, which is a very different thing:
    The study of religion is vital to an understanding of history, current affairs and human motivation. But if young people are to study religion in state schools it is vital that they are exposed to the beliefs and practices of more than one religion.
    If secularists try to cocoon their children, and pretend that religion doesn’t exist, then they are almost as bad as the religiots who bring up THEIR children thinking that there is only one world view and anything else is lies and nonsense (and I have witnessed the harm that that has done). ALL children have the right to make up their own minds about these matters, in time, even if their parents are horrified by some of the choices that they make!
    Nicky Morgan, meanwhile, while clinging to their coat tails, is singing from a very different hymn sheet.

  • Brian Jordan

    Having scattered the appropriate arrows across the Daily Mail comments, I decided to look at a couple of sample GCSE RE papers. Paper A contained virtually nothing about religion – it was all “what might a Christian say about x,y,or z matters like conservation and famines.”
    Part B was mostly “what might people of x,y or z religion say about matters like homosexuality or abortion” – with ONLY ONE religion to be chosen for an answer.
    In other words, morality and ethics viewed through religion (one only) tinted glasses.
    How on earth is this going to stop religious extremism?
    What possible justification is there for this tinting of the glasses – why not just teach philosophy and ethics?
    And yes, comparative religion is quite a different matter: compare and contrast – transubstantiation, buraq riding and reincarnation in insect form.

  • Edwin Salter

    There’s so much wrong with RE – syllabus,teaching, examination, role in school … that the subject would best be scrapped. ‘Beliefs and Ideologies’ sounds possible and would include knowledge and critical/comparative study of religion and irreligion along with social world views, political, economic etc.

  • Stuart H.

    Local NAHT rep used to be a godbothering homophobe who favoured Section 28, so this doesn’t surprise me one bit.
    UK parents – another nasty one to look out for – the national curriculum has a course delivered in last year of junior & 1st year of secondary school, supposed to help kids cope with moving up. Scripture Union Ministries Trust has the contract to deliver this for numerous LEAs.
    It’s not considered or supposed to be RE, so you have no opt out, but SUMT deliver it in a very religious way and openly boast on their website about it as an evangelical tool. Strongly advise you check with your school and kick up if it turns out to be SUMT.