Lancashire

Bishop of Blackburn 'worried' over school RE lessons

The Right Reverend Nicholas Reade, Bishop of Blackburn
Image caption The Bishop of Blackburn says RE in schools is essential

The Bishop of Blackburn says he is worried about the future of religious education in Lancashire's schools.

The Right Reverend Nicholas Reade was speaking in Fulwood at a specially convened session of the Blackburn Diocesan Synod.

The event was attended by clergy, teachers and educationalists.

They want the government to "match the commitment of church schools by including religious education in the English baccalaureate."

The government says: "RE is an important part of the curriculum - that is why it remains compulsory."

The Bishop of Blackburn says RE in schools is essential: "Schools have always been at the heart of this diocese. We are behind all schools. We are looking for excellence and religious education to be safeguarded in our schools."

In the keynote address, Dr Rob Gwynne, head of shool development for the Church of England, told the audience at St. Cuthbert's in Fulwood: "There are one million children in 4,600 C of E schools. We are faced with a government who are bringing all sorts of changes to us"

Dr. Gwynne denied that schools are limping before they have been kicked. "We don't feel under any threat," he said. "If we have a risk it is one of complacency."

I asked Dr. Gwynne why there was an extra meeting of the synod called if he was right in thinking that RE was not under threat. "There are threats, but if we don't manage the current situation carefully we will find fragmentation of our church system.

"But we are very confident, not complacent, that this is a moment to be seized."

Consequences

Fred Kershaw, acting head of education for the diocese, says the consequences of government proposals not to include RE in the baccalaureate are massive: "I do see it as seismic because, although the 1944 Education Act, which brought in dual-faith and non-faith schools will remain, it may well be superseded by other acts.

"Therefore, the seismic change will be to the independence of all schools."

The synod recommended that RE should be a core subject in the baccalaureate and that it should be supported in schools.

Image caption Head teacher Peter Hyland values RE in schools

Peter Hyland, head teacher at St. Chad's C of E School in Poulton-le-Fylde, says there are worrying signs that government don't value RE in the way he wants them to. He told me: "The English baccalaureate, statements by government minister Michael Gove and the national curriculum review all seem to down play and dilute the value of RE."

A government spokesman denied this saying: "The English baccalaureate is about ensuring pupils from all backgrounds have the chance to study a core of the main subjects, including those such as languages and history where entries have declined in recent years in a number of schools. Success in the RE GCSE will continue to be recognised by other school performance table measures."

Fred Kershaw denied that any change in government thinking on RE is only reflecting an increasing secular world: "If you think that 450,000 students took RE last year then they should listen to students and what they want to do."

Lisa Fenton, senior advisor to schools for the Blackburn Diocese, was heartened by the support being shown from Lancashire's schools: "So many people are really interested and concerned about education. We need to stand together and fly the flag for church schools and the contribution they make to society."

She added: "People who make the big decisions aren't listening to those of us who are on the ground who are working with young people and know how important all the subjects RE covers are to the spiritual growth of the children."

The government say this is exactly what they are proposing: "Schools have complete freedom over every aspect of their budgets. Heads know the needs of their school and where the money needs to be spent to have the biggest impact on schools."

Head teachers like Peter Hyland from St. Chad's in Poulton-le-Fylde remain worried: "For me it is about sending a clear message to government that we want to retain the church status, we want to retain the RE in schools that is so important on a faith journey."

He added: "If they are lost, we won't be able to get faith schools or RE back."

Joe Wilson presents the faith programme on BBC Radio Lancashire from 6am each Sunday.

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