Children should begin to learn about another religion alongside Christianity from the age of five, according to new government guidelines on teaching religious education published yesterday.
A report drawn up by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) – the government’s curriculum and examinations watchdog, says: “It is important that schools make every effort to ensure that during their school life pupils encounter the principal religions.”
Pupils should also consider secular philosophies, such as humanism “in considering ultimate questions and ethical issues”, the report adds. The document says that pupils should be able to study minority religions that have a following in their community.
In different areas of the country, this could mean the study of a different minority sect.
Yesterday’s report was broadly welcomed by all the faith groups. The Church of England said that it recognised the “sensitivity with which the Government and the QCA have handled the process” of devising a religious education curriculum.
The Muslim Council of Britain and the Muslim Educational Trust said: “The Muslim community welcomes this initiative as it seeks to promote a pluralistic society where one can retain both individual integrity as well as share that which is of corporate value and benefit for us all.”
The guidelines make it clear that Christianity should be studied by all pupils throughout their schooling – as the country’s main religion.
However, pupils should also study one other religion between the ages of five and seven, at least two more between the age of seven and 11 and at least a further two between the age of 11 and 14 – so that they cover all of the principal religions by the time they leave school.
The guidelines add that teachers should aim to develop good relationships that respect the differences of people and warn of the “destructive power of prejudice” and the challenge of “racism, discrimination, offending behaviour and bullying”.
Between the ages of five and seven, pupils should visit different places of worship and understand “how and why religious people celebrate”, the report says.
Welcoming the guidelines yesterday, Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, said: “Religious education plays an important part in our children’s spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. This is why we are making moves to strengthen its teaching in schools.”
The guidance, which is now going out for consultation, is not statutory – so schools will not be forced to follow it. But many are expected to follow its principles.
Dr Ken Boston, the chief executive of the QCA, said: “Religious education in this country is based on two principles – that it should be a statutory part of education for all pupils and that it should reflect the particular needs and circumstances of local communities.”
PROPOSED CHANGES FOR RELIGIOUS EDUCATION
Pupils will be taught on the six main religions: Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism.
The three minority religions mentioned in the guidance are:
Baha’i: one of the world’s youngest religions,it was practised by Dr David Kelly, the late Iraqi weapons expert. Its followers promote pacifism, gender equality and tolerance of other religions.
Jainism: One of the three ancient religions to originate on the Indian sub-continent. Jains believe in reincarnation and believe humans can gain immortality through a life of harmlessness and renunciation. Most followers are vegetarian, many are celibate.
Zoroastrianism: Founded in Persia by Zarathustra between 1500 and 1000BC, its followers believe life is a cosmic power struggle between good and evil. The late rock star, Freddie Mercury, of Queen, was a Zoroastrian.