BY MURRAY WHITE STANDARDS OF RELIGIOUS
Education need to be improved and should give more emphasis to Christianity, Education Secretary John Patten declared this week.
Publishing draft guidelines on new RE requirements on Monday, Mr Patten said that he wanted to end what he sees as "wishy-washy" multi-faith lessons. The guidelines highlight Government concern that "insufficient attention has been paid explicitly" to spiritual and moral education.
Mr Patten, who is a Catholic, said: "Pupils should have the best opportunity not only for mental and physical development, but for spiritual, moral and cultural development at school as well. Religious education and collective worship make a vital contribution to that development."
The 60-page circular explains new developments in RE in this year's Education Act, and brings up to dare all existing guidelines of statutory provisions for RE and collective worship. It says: "In many schools, these activities do not take place with the frequency or to the standard which pupils deserve."
The guidelines say that collective worship in assemblies in school may be split up between different age groups, but not within different faith groups, and should be "wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character". Non-Christian parents will still have the right to withdraw their children from assemblies and RE lessons.
Although the guidelines are aimed primarily at RE teaching in non-denominational schools, they set out the development for local curriculum advisory bodies, SACREs, each of which has at least one Catholic member. Denominational education and worship is also, for the first time, to be inspected externally every four years.
Parents have the opportunity to request that a new RE model syllabus, several of which being prepared for 1994, be used by Catholic schools if their local education authority (LEA) adopts one, says the document. Catholic education authorities welcomed an increased emphasis given to religious education, but said that such a shift must be backed up with extra funding at a local level.
Anthony Clark, Secretary to the Bishops' Schools Committee, told the CatholicHerald: "We would certainly like to see more money put into RE resources, especially in teacher training, in-service training and other resources."
It was regrettable that many LEAs were cutting RE advisers amid budget cutbacks, said Mr Clark. Although Catholic dioceses have their own advisers, several also make use of LEA advisers.
Teachers, governors, local and religious education authorities and church authorities have until early December to respond to the proposals, a month before final guidelines are published. Some Muslim groups this week expressed concern that their pupils should be allowed more freedom to team mainly about their own faith.
New education page, see p 9.