Atheism Should Be Taught In School, Report Says

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A two-year investigation into Religious Eduction in schools has concluded that different viewpoints, such as atheism, should be taught in the subject.

The Commission on Religious Education was established in 2016 with the purpose of reviewing the provision of religious education. More than 3,000 submissions contributed to the study, with pupils, teachers, parents, and faith and belief communities having their say.

With the increasingly diverse world we now live in, the report concluded that the subject is in need of a major overhaul.

It suggested that the topic should be renamed Religion and Worldviews, and should ‘reflect the complex, diverse and plural nature of worldviews’.

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The report has stated that the subject should focus on ‘a range of religious, philosophical, spiritual and other approaches to life, including different traditions within Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism, non-religious world views and concepts including humanism, secularism, atheism and agnosticism’.

The changes would be made in the hopes of equipping students ‘with respect and empathy for different faiths and viewpoints’.

As well as what the subject focuses on, the report has advised that all students in publicly funded schools should study Religious Education up to year 11.

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Though the subject would be mandatory, the Commission on Religious Eduction proposed that schools should be allowed to tailor what they teach to local circumstances, with faith schools providing extra teaching on their specific religion.

It also recommended government funding to train new and existing teachers in the subject.

The two year study found that the teaching of the topic is variable at the moment, with a number of schools not offering it at all.

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Altering the subject to Religion and Worldviews would be thought to provide ‘insight into the sciences, the arts, literature, history and contemporary local and global social and political issues’.

Continuing to talk about the potential benefits of the changes, the report added:

Learning about worldviews helps young people to deal positively with controversial issues, to manage strongly held differences of belief and to challenge stereotypes. In an increasingly diverse society, understanding religious and non-religious worldviews has never been more essential than it is now.

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The Very Reverend Dr John Hall, who chaired the Commission, spoke about the need for the changes, explaining:

Life in Britain, indeed life in our world, is very different from life in the 1970s when Religious Education began to include other world religions and beliefs besides Christianity.

Young people today are growing up in a wonderfully diverse society. Day by day they can encounter different cultures and worldviews, if not personally at least through the media.

So it has never been more important for people to understand the main traditions of faith and belief and the wide variety of worldviews.

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The recommendations have received mixed opinions from some audiences.

According to The Guardian, the head teachers’ union, the Church of England and Humanists UK are on board with the suggestions.

Paul Whiteman, from the National Association of Head Teachers, said:

[The changes] promote and develop the subject for the 21st century, preparing children and young people for their lives beyond school.

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Nigel Genders, the Church of England’s chief education officer, agreed:

A new vision is vital if we are to equip children for life in the modern world.

However, the Catholic Education Service opposed the changes, stating:

[The report is] not so much an attempt to improve RE as to fundamentally change its character … The quality of religious education is not improved by teaching less religion.

The report and its suggestions will be presented to the Department for Education for consideration.

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