A letter from Charles Clarke and Linda Woodhead, published in The Tablet on 2nd August 2018.
In 2015, we published a set of recommendations on how to improve the quality of religious education in state schools, and last week we launched an updated version of that report in the House of Commons.
Revised after consultation with stakeholders, the new version of “A New Settlement” received widespread coverage and positive reaction across party lines. Only two groups were critical: the British Humanist Association and the Catholic Education Service. The BHA reaction is understandable because we support faith schools and collective worship. The Catholic reaction is harder to fathom.
It is false to claim that we advocate for a sociological rather than a theological approach to RE. We suggest no particular curriculum at all – as a cursory reading of our report will reveal. Neither do we call for the state to impose a national RE curriculum on the Church. We approve of high-quality Catholic teaching of RE, and we know no examples of how the light-touch national syllabus we recommend could be at odds with it.
We consulted several times with the CES before publishing our revised recommendations and took account of their views – for example, by removing a distinction between indoctrination, formation and education. Yet the Tablet leader last week quotes it as if were still there. So why such misrepresentation? We can only surmise that a minority within the Catholic Church disagrees so strongly with the theological position our report upholds that it wants to undermine it by any means. Our position is simple, and it is supported by Jesus’ teaching and example: education should seek the best for all children, rather than defend sectional religious interests.
(Professor) Linda Woodhead