The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Religious Education was launched on Monday, 11th June 2012. The inaugural meeting was held in Dining Room A at the House of Commons and was followed by an informal reception. The aim for the group, for which the REC provides the secretariat, is to provide a medium through which MPs, peers and organisations with an interest in religious education can discuss provision of the subject, promote a clear positive image of RE and advocate that all young people receive excellent RE teaching. Stephen Lloyd MP, now the group’s Chair, reiterated the importance of this in his opening remarks after conducting the formal business of the meeting, which established the executive for the APPG. “Rest assured,” he said, “that you have the support of many, many different parliamentarians from both houses across the whole political party spectrum, broadly speaking because, like me, they recognise that the teaching of RE in schools by trained, experienced RE teachers has a real and profound significance going forward.”
Four further speakers followed, the first of whom was Clare, a sixth form student of philosophy and ethics and a passionate advocate for RE. Clare began by showing a video she had made which powerfully conveys the vital role RE plays in enabling young people to develop an understanding of themselves and their world. She continued by listing things she wouldn’t have known about without RE, including the UK’s parliamentary voting system, the work of Amnesty International and why some people don’t believe in God.
John Keast, Chair of the REC, spoke next, drawing attention to the results of the recent YouGov study which shows that 63 percent of 18 – 24 year olds agree that religious education is relevant and should be taught in schools. He underlined the importance of the APPG in ensuring that good quality RE is not squeezed out of the curriculum, pointing out that over 60 percent of all 16 year olds choose to take it at GCSE and the number studying it at A level has more than doubled in the last 15 years.
Fiona Bruce MP, one of the Deputy Chairs for the APPG, endorsed John’s message and spoke enthusiastically about RE from the positive experiences of her own children and the range of important topics they had been able to explore.
This was further underlined by Deborah Weston, Secretary to the RE Council, who spoke in her capacity as a member of the NATRE executive board. Deborah also showed a video produced by NATRE, which provided a vibrant illustration of the nature of RE today.
After the speeches, there was ample opportunity for guests to mingle informally and it was encouraging to witness lively conversations amongst parliamentarians, school students, RE teachers and people from different faith and belief communities. The atmosphere was convivial and purposeful; links were forged between representatives of many different groups who would probably not normally come together but who are united in their resolve to ensure that all young people experience a personally inspiring and academically rigorous education in religious and non-religious world views.