Over 60 students from across England came together on 13 July at the Houses of Parliament for the inaugural Youth Debate on the role of religious education in schools.
They were welcomed to Westminster by Mary Glindon MP and comedian, writer, actress and RE Council patron Sara Pascoe (pictured right). Speaking to audience members before the event, Sara Pascoe said,
“The issues raised in RE lessons constantly mirror the news headlines. I loved it when I was at school, for encouraging me to think for myself, develop my opinions, and understand the world I was living in. Broad knowledge of the different religions and beliefs is never wasted, and can make us all better neighbours.”
In the wide ranging discussion which followed – covering topics as diverse as the role of religious literacy in combatting extremism, the secularisation of schools, and the responsibility of society to ensure that young people are educated at school about the wide range of religions and beliefs in Britain – United Nations debating rules were firmly applied in the chamber by the debate co-chairs, students from Mulberry School for Girls in Tower Hamlets, London. Both young women demonstrated their expert training in handling their peers (and experienced politicians!), and ensured that pupils from each school in attendance were able to argue their points during the debate.
On whether the right to withdraw from RE should be repealed, several pupils argued as that the purpose of RE was not to indoctrinate people, it should not be necessary for pupils to withdraw from studying the subject. On this point, one delegate made an interesting comparison:
“We’re not taught French to become French, but to learn about French. The same is true of religious education.”
The topic of who should be teaching RE to children, and whether this should be left to parents, was also debated. Delegates argued that as with any other academic subject, it required subject specialists to ensure that RE was taught well. The former Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, who was in attendance for some of the debate, also spoke in favour of school-based, inclusive religious education, adding that RE was “one of the hottest potatoes for a Secretary of State to handle”!
Many of the students managed to talk to their local MPs, who had been invited to attend the debate and hear what their local students had to say on the importance and relevance of RE in a modern society.
The debate was staged by the Religious Education Council for England and Wales (REC) and the National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE).
REC Chief Executive Officer, Rudolf Eliott Lockhart, commented:
“The importance and role of RE and the way it looks in schools is a subject that raises real passions on all sides of the debate. But today these young people have shown that there is room for different points of view, and that in fact this variety enhances debate and improves learning for all.”
NATRE Chair, Daniel Hugill, added:
“These young people have confidently and passionately articulated why RE is so important in our schools. They are clear that high quality RE makes a significant contribution to their education and helps prepare them for life in both modern Britain and the wider world. I am delighted that the policy makers here today have heard this directly from these young people.”
Archived tweets from #REdebate2016 can be seen here.
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National Association of Teachers of RE
NATRE is the subject teacher association for RE professionals in primary and secondary schools and higher education, providing a representative voice at national level and publications and courses to promote professional development. NATRE’s Executive consists of a majority of serving teachers.
Religious Education Council of England and Wales
The Religious Education Council of England and Wales was established in 1973 to represent the collective interests of a wide variety of professional associations and faith communities in deepening and strengthening provision for religious education. It provides a multi-faith forum where national organisations with an interest in supporting and promoting religious education in schools and colleges can share matters of common concern. The REC’s vision is that every young person experiences a personally inspiring and academically rigorous education in religious and non-religious worldviews. It seeks to work in a way that embodies values of cooperation, collaboration, openness, mutual respect and critical engagement.