There’s something tucked away on page 15 of Labour’s ‘Race and Faith‘ manifesto which has received no comment at all. No-one seems to have noticed their intention to downgrade Christianity in the Religious Education syllabus, and thereby diminish children’s knowledge of their religious heritage, culture and national spiritual life.
The law clearly expressed in the Education Act 1988 (and reiterated in the Education Act 1996) requires that “Religious Education shall reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian, whilst taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain”. This has been incrementally eroded in praxis over the decades, but the theological statute remains, and is clearly expressed in the DfE’s 2010 guidance for Religious Education: “Every locally agreed syllabus must reflect that the religious traditions of Great Britain are in the main Christian, while taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain.”
Labour pledges in their ‘Race and Faith’ manifesto to “Support religious education about all faiths in all schools”; and then to “Review the curriculum to ensure that it enriches students and covers subjects such as racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, xenophobia and black history and continues to teach issues like the Holocaust.”
Setting aside questions of political interference in a mandatory component of the school curriculum (which may or may not be justifiable: all political parties do it), when a government is determined to cram something into the RE syllabus in order to inculcate certain sociological truths into a generation of schoolchildren, something has to give. And it’s a fair bet that what would give under Labour would be the requirement to educate that nation’s children preeminently about the precepts of Christianity and introduce them to the person and teachings of Jesus Christ. Instead, there would be an abundance of teaching about Islamophobia, LGBT discrimination, anti-EU xenophobia and black history (month), etc., etc. Each of these topics could, of course, offer the creative latitude for Christianity to remain preeminent, but RE is already so poorly taught in many schools (if it is taught at all), and not inspected at all rigorously by Ofsted, that it would be easy (if not inevitable) for it to be further downgraded by Labour’s pledge.
How could “the party of equality” (p4) possibly justify sustaining religious inequality in Religious Education?