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Teachers criticise union ideas on faith

ReliStory 31gious leaders could be invited into state schools to give pupils instruction in their own faith, suggests a policy paper produced by the largest teachers’ trade union, the National Union of Teachers (NUT). It sees the move as a way of avoiding segregation in education. The document, In Good Faith, was endorsed by delegates at the NUT’s annual conference in Manchester on Monday., was endorsed by delegates at the NUT’s annual conference in Manchester on Monday.
Steve Sinnott, the union’s general secretary, said that the move, which would change radically the current legal position on religion in state education, would reduce parental demand for faith schools — which some NUT activists regard as divisive.
Visitor: Prince Charles celebrates Chanukah at a Jewish school in Hendon, north London, in December. The NUT report suggests moving away from segregation in education PA
A senior NUT spokesman emphasised, however, that the union was not opposed in principle to faith schools. “We are not against church schools. This is about community cohesion, and we recognise that many C of E primary schools are at the centre of their communities,” said John Bangs, the union’s education officer on Wednesday.
Mr Bangs said that the policy paper was intended to encourage schools to accept their responsibilities to religious pupils. It is understood to propose that space should be found, in an already overcrowded timetable, for religious instruction for specific groups.
This could mean the arrival in the classroom of Christian ministers, imams, rabbis, and other faith leaders, to provide what amounts to a proposed recasting of RI, which was abandoned in state schools more than 60 years ago. It would not, however, replace the very different emphasis of multifaith religious education (RE), which, the NUT believes, should remain part of the curriculum.
The proposals have been widely criticised, particularly by head teachers, who would have to implement them. John Dunford, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), which represents secondary-school heads, said that bringing local religious leaders into schools, which would have little control over what they said, would risk promoting extremism. “This is not a realistic proposal.”
On the more general issue of faith schools, he said: “This country has a long tradition of religious involvement in education, and that is not likely to change in the near future.”
Dennis Richards, head of St Aidan’s High School, Harrogate, one of the largest comprehensives in the country, also expressed concern about allowing religious protagonists to give instruction in schools.
“I like to keep a close check on individuals I invite into my school. We’re about religious education, not faith instruction. Faith schools have developed great expertise in handling multifaith issues, and that should be recognised in any debate on these proposals, which I would welcome,” he said.
Press reports said that many delegates who took part in Monday’s vote had not read the policy document. Many NUT members work in faith schools: Bev Hall, acting head of St Mary’s C of E Primary School in Walthamstow, is one of them. “I haven’t heard of this report,” she said on Tuesday.
“Several teachers in this school are NUT members, and it has not been discussed here. The proposals sound narrow and sad. We have a very wide range of pupils in social and faith terms, whose parents have chosen this school.”
The chief education officer of the Church of England, the Revd Jan Ainsworth, was also critical. “While we would welcome the NUT document as recognising something of the importance of the role of faith in people’s lives, these proposals still look like an attempt to relegate faith to a few slots in the timetable. Suggesting that a religion is just another lifestyle choice will not help boost community cohesion.”



By courtesy of Margaret Holness, Education Correspondent Church Times