As part of our work as Young Ambassadors for the RE Council, a group of students from Broughton High School attended a national debate on Religious Education at Westminster last summer. Inspired by this, they were keen to help organise a similar event for local schools and worked with Lancashire SACRE to organise an event. Eight secondary schools from across Lancashire were involved and gathered at County Hall to debate current issues in RE, including the importance of religiously literacy and the right of withdrawal. A wide a range of views were expressed, but the overwhelming view was that in the modern world, a good knowledge and understanding of the different faiths and beliefs that exist in society will benefit young people both now and in later life. As one student said: “If we don’t know about each other’s religious beliefs how can we ever tolerate, accept and hopefully understand the actions of other human beings.”
Another student made the point that RE should be inclusive of all faiths and none in order to be valued by all and that more people needed to understand that RE today is not about teaching people to BE religious, but to help them to develop a better knowledge and understanding of their own beliefs and values and those of others: “You don’t have to practise or be a part of something to value and understand it.”
All the students agreed that it was important to have good RE in schools. They raised questions about where young people could learn about religious and ethical issues if RE did not exist. Many felt that in the modern world, where so many news stories are about such issues, but where people need to be able to analyse, interpret and think critically about what they see in the media that good RE was vital for all pupils in all types of schools.
One area of concern raised by the students was the importance of properly trained RE teachers. It was felt that there was a lot of specialist knowledge and skills needed to teach RE well and that where problems existed in RE it was often because teachers lacked the specialism and confidence required.
The Chair of Lancashire SACRE, Mr Peter Martin, said “the debate produced remarkable responses from the young people, who had been prepared for the event by their teachers, but who had to rely on their own wits, words and wisdom to conduct themselves in a strange environment, on their feet and in the company of strangers. Their behaviour and manners were exemplary”.
Many thanks to the schools involved and to their teachers who clearly put a lot of time and effort into preparing their students for the debate.
The feedback from all who attended was extremely positive and we hope to organise another debate next year.
Reported by Zara Adam and Hannah Clements. See the Broughton RE blog for more news about the activities of Broughton’s Young Ambassadors for RE.