Friday, 11 October 2013

Joy Tibbs asks; 'Is Christianity being squeezed out of schools?'

Having grown up in a Christian home and split my scholastic career between three ‘Christian’ schools, you might think I would have been overwhelmed by Bible teaching and endless faith-based discussions. 

However, while God was very real to me outside of school, the way religion was presented within the school walls was somewhat lacking. Assemblies were boring, RE lessons were lacklustre and the general feeling was that no-one really believed what they were teaching us anyway, so why should we?

Interestingly, Ofsted seems to have come to a similar conclusion when it comes to the portrayal of Christianity – and religion in general – in schools. According to the schools inspection body, the Christian faith is being “squeezed out” of schools and pupils deserve “much better”.

I actually remember what we were taught about other faiths much more distinctly than about Christianity at school. I was fascinated by the appearance of Vishnu and Shiva, and intrigued to learn what was eaten during the Passover Festival. But apart from some very dry discussion about sacraments and God’s judgement, I don’t remember very much of what we learnt about my own faith. I’m pretty sure Jesus was barely mentioned.

One of the criticisms Ofsted has levelled at schools is that they are focused on “superficial” observations and bringing discussions about Christianity to a “happy end” rather than engaging in genuine debate. I wanted to know how all the animals fitted into Noah’s ark, or at least whether my pets would go to heaven (I'm told not, but am still holding out hope). But back in my day controversy was strictly avoided, and Ofsted claims this is still the case today.

After inspecting 185 schools, Ofsted found that 60% of primary schools and just over 50% of secondary schools failed to realise the subject's full potential. Its 'Religious education: realising the potential' report identified low standards, weak teachings, a confused sense of purpose, training gaps and weaknesses in the way religious education is examined. 

RE is compulsory in all state schools at present, but weirdly it is not part of the national curriculum. Instead, individual schools and councils are responsible for drawing up their own syllabuses.

Ofsted’s director of schools, Michael Cladingbowl, said: "At its best, religious education encourages children and young people to extend their natural curiosity and prepares them for life in modern society.

"We saw some great examples of this during the survey, but too often we found religious education lessons being squeezed out by other subjects and children and young people leaving school with little knowledge or understanding of different religions.

"This just isn’t good enough when religion and belief are playing such a profound part in today’s world. Pupils deserve much better."

It’s hardly surprising that the number of pupils opting to study RE at GCSE level has dropped sharply. But on reflection, should schools be held responsible for teaching children about Christianity and other religions? Or do parents and local churches/religious centres also have a part to play?

I know for a fact I’d never have encountered God for myself through our boring RE lessons, but fortunately my parents walked out their faith and took me to church where I could ask the questions I had (and there were many) and pursue my own faith. So what about those who aren’t given this opportunity?
Well I guess that’s where we come in. Some Christians are accused of indoctrinating their children, but I believe it is our responsibility to present people with the basics and then allow them to make their own decisions. And that doesn’t just apply to children.

Sorted and Liberti magazines aren’t the answer to our schools’ lack of conviction when it comes to religion, but they certainly engage with Christianity in a real and unforceful way. I’m happy to have swapped the dusty lessons for the glossy magazines and I hope you will feel the same way should you choose to have a read.

Buy your copies here today -

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