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Re and the english baccalaureate letter 29th may

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This is a letter I am sending to anyone who may be interested in joining the fight for good Religious Education in this country. I aim to send it to MPs and faith groups. You are welcome to include …

This is a letter I am sending to anyone who may be interested in joining the fight for good Religious Education in this country. I aim to send it to MPs and faith groups. You are welcome to include some of the points I make here in your own letters - and suggest to me other points that i have not included.

The decision is due to be made in early June so please act now. Sign the petition (details on the letter) and contact your MP.

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  • 1. 28th May 2011It is a long time since Britain ruled the world with the Empire.The world really has made progress since that time. But there isone way in which Britain still is a world leader. And that is in ourprovision of Religious Education in school.Because of the rich multi cultural nature of our country, enrichedby people from all corners of the world – one very positiveconsequence of those distant colonial days – we have movedaway from teaching confessional Religion (which was usuallycalled Scripture or Religious Instruction and was based on astudy of the Bible.) Our schools now teach real ReligiousEducation - which means just that – a real education about thewhole world of Religion. We study all the major religions, theirhistory and teachings – and look at the way that the force ofreligion is active in the news today. Today RE is about learning tothink and reflect more deeply rather than learning about oneparticular faith or belief system.Just as in Geography we study all the countries of the world, inReligious Education we study the whole world of religion. Wefocus on the six major religions – (in historical order of origins)Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Sikhism.But we also touch on other World Views including the secular,atheist and agnostic perspectives.There are no other countries in the world which teach ReligiousEducation as well as we do. Our model of Religious Education isan inspiration to the whole world.Religious Education is a challenging and rigorous subject whichengages our young people in a strong way because it alsochallenges them to think about their own beliefs and issues in thenews. In RE we learn about the great religions and we also learnfrom them. Over the past 15 years, the number of studentschoosing to take a GCSE exam in RE has increased fourfold. Butthis is now in danger.Recent legislation, introducing the English Baccalaureateassesses schools according to the results not only of Maths,English and Science (as was previously the case) but also in aHumanities subject and a language.If this meant that all the Humanities subjects were included, therewould not be a problem, but the Education Secretary is onlyinterested in promoting History and Geography. So only theirresults will count for the English Baccalaureate. That means thatschools all over the country are reducing the RE they are offering.
  • 2. Students all over the country are being denied the option to studyRE and this important subject is being sidelined. But there is a lotof concern across the nation about this state of affairs. Over 100MPs have signed an Early Day Motion calling for RE to beincluded in the English Bacc and over 100,000 individuals havesigned a petition calling for RE to remain at the heart of theHumanities where it belongs, with parity in timetable space,qualified specialist teachers and funding. This issue is now beingre-examined and debated in Parliament and a decision is due tobe made in June.This is a letter which I am sending to all interested partiesincluding our MPs and faith groups, calling them to sign theEarly Day Motion or the RE ACT petition and ensure that RE isnot marginalised. You are welcome to use some of the points Imake here - and write to your own MP and anyone else who maywish to offer their support to this important matter.Thank you for giving your time to read and think about thisimportant issue.SincerelyDurgaMata29th May, 2011here is my letter -DearI am very concerned about the exclusion of Religious Education from the EnglishBaccalaureate. I am writing to ask you to sign the Early Day Motion for RE to beincluded in the English Bacc – as without this inclusion it is being sidelined and madeincreasingly irrelevant in the school curriculum. In my letter I am setting out tohighlight some of the reasons why I believe that it is so important to have goodReligious Education taught in our schools – and why that means that RE must beincluded in the English Baccalaureate.The impact of Current LegislationThe Humanities Faculty in schools has always included History, Geography andReligious Education. The current exclusion of RE as a Humanities subject, from theEnglish Baccalaureate means that many schools are discouraging students from takingRE GCSE as an option when it comes to deciding which GCSE subject to take.Because it competes with History and Geography (which count in the English Bacc)schools right across the country are reducing GCSE RE exam provision. In manyschools the option to take RE GCSE has been closed. (My own God Daughter wasdenied this choice just a few months ago.)
  • 3. Schools are reducing the RE budget, cutting timetable space, reducing departmentalstaffing and even amalgamating RE with Citizenship and/or PSHE. (There are manyletters about this on the TES forums in all these three subjects. In one school, havingamalgamated PSHE and RE they call the resulting subject RSE (arse)! And it isgiven only 50 mins a week!This does not just mean that our students are not getting the benefit of good RE, but italso sends out a clear message – that Religion and Religious Education are subjectswhich just doesn’t matter. But good RE does matter.Some of the reasons why good RE is importantThe National Curriculum requires our schools to provide a balanced and broadlybased curriculum which:1. Promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupilsat the school and of society; and2. Prepares such pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities, and experiences of adultlife.I am starting by responding to the first of these requirements:1) It is unusual for RE to offer our students much in the way of physical development– although kinaesthetic activities and role-play/drama activities, visits and outings cancontribute here, but RE does engage with all the other aspects of our young people’sdevelopment in a strong and direct way.Spiritual DevelopmentReligious Education is vital if our young people are to have any understanding of thespiritual aspect of life - and of themselves as spiritual beings. No other subjectactually explores the spiritual aspect of their development (although others, especiallythe arts subjects, do contribute to this, as creativity and spirituality are closely linked.)No other subject actually engages with spiritual issues or explores them. All the othersubjects give our young people important skills and they all teach our young peopleimportant things – but no other subject is actually engaging with who they are ashuman beings and helping them to make sense of the amazing reality that we call life.RE is rigorous in its engagement with the spiritual aspect of life.Moral DevelopmentMany great philosophers and theologians speak of life as an opportunity, a test, ajourney or quest in which we all have to make choices and deal with the consequencesof these choices, and through which we explore life and discover what is true. GoodReligious Education, taught by qualified specialists (and not just marginalised in thetimetable) empowers our young people. It challenges them to think about what theydo and why. It gives them the skills and awareness to think about their actions – andthe consequences of them.Morality does not just develop in a vacuum. All the religions embody ideals andcodes of behaviour which, when discussed in class and taught as part of good RE,enrich our young people and strengthen society as a whole. Without this, our youngpeople loose this moral direction and our society suffers. We see so much evidence ofthis decline in moral understanding and direction in our society – the consequence of
  • 4. the general decline in religious observance. But good RE can make a difference. RE isrigorous in its engagement with the moral aspect of life.Cultural DevelopmentAnother important element in Religious Education relates to the teaching ofChristianity. This country has been shaped by Christianity for more than a thousandyears. An understanding of Christianity gives our students an understanding of ourshared British Christian heritage, its history, legal and political system, its culture,music, art, literature, architecture etc, whatever our own personal family history andbeliefs may be. This increases the development of and understanding of our commonBritish culture. It has an impact on the ethos of the school, the cohesiveness of ourlocal community and the well being of our nation -and this is not found in any otheraspect of the curriculum. But there is more to culture than this. Ours is indeed a multicultural society, enriched by people from all over the world. And again, RE comesinto its own as it encourages an exploration of the many different cultures andreligions found within our neighbourhoods and school communities. We learn aboutthe religious practises, beliefs and customs, the festivals, music, art and cuisine, frommany different cultures, opening the eyes of our students to the richness and diversityof our society and encouraging them to respond to diversity in a positive way. GoodRE is rigorous in its engagement with the cultural aspect of life.Mental DevelopmentSocratese said that ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ In RE we do not tell ourstudents what to think, but we teach them how to think more deeply. No other subjectoffers an opportunity to think about and discuss the greatest questions that humanbeings can ever ask, the ‘Eternal’ or ‘Ultimate’ Questions - and study the greatestanswers ever given to these ‘essential but unanswerable’ questions, answers given bysome of the greatest people who have ever walked the earth.A group of (normally quite disaffected) youngsters in one of my classes, continued towork on this topic when the bell had gone for the end of the lesson. They continued towork into their break-time. While exploring the question of ‘Why am I alive?’ onestudent had responded by asking, ‘Am I really alive? – Perhaps I am just a robot.’ Wefound the discussion flying in all kinds of directions. The students were discussingideas that they had seen on films and on the television, As they eventually left theclassroom one boy turned to me and said, ‘Miss, I have never worked so hard atanything in all my life.’RE is rigorous in its engagement with the aspect of the curriculum which requiresgood mental development and the development of advanced thinking skills.The next aspect of the National Curriculum which RE contributes to is therequirement to promote these qualities not just in our pupils but also in society.SocietyNo other subject offers our students the opportunity to think not just about what theybelieve and why – but also encourages them to develop skills in understanding otherpeople, often very different people, people with very different approaches to life,different ways of making sense of the world, different beliefs and practises. ReligiousEducation challenges narrow-mindedness and prejudice, gaining insight into this andmany other issues from the teachings of all the great world religions.
  • 5. Religious Education can be perceived as a ‘dance’ in which you first learn to see theworld clearly from where you stand – and then you also learn to step into the shoes ofother people and see the world through their eyes. This development of understandingand empathy is essential for good personal relations in any workplace. It is alsoessential for harmony in our neighbourhoods and in society as a whole.Without good RE, prejudice and fear of ‘the other’ proliferate. With good RE ouryoung people go out into the world with a much more open and respectful attitude.They are also responsive to suffering and more likely to help when anyone is introuble, either directly if they see someone in need – or by raising money to helpwhen there is a natural disaster or by joining campaigns to fight for greater fairnessand justice in society or in the wider world. Good RE is rigorous in its support for thewellbeing of our whole society.The second requirement of the National Curriculum states that it2. Prepares such pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities, and experiences ofadult life.OpportunitiesIn Religious Education we don’t only ‘learn about’ each religion but we also ‘learnfrom’ them. Our students learn to reflect on important aspects of life such as love,forgiveness, compassion, hope, courage, thankfulness, fairness, justice and peace. Weexplore these ‘dispositions’ with insights that come from all the great religions. Thisleads to greater self-understanding. That is one reason why RE is so popular in school.It actually engages with the life experience of our young people. With good RE ouryoung people develop strategies such as reflection, meditation and a more detatchedand philosophical attitude which can help them to deal with problems and counterstress. International surveys have shown that our young people are some of the mostunhappy and stressed in the world. Good RE can give them some skills to counter thisstress and make more sense of our society, skills that will stand them in good stead asthey enter adult life.ResponsibilitiesThis aspect of RE is linked to morality. All the religions teach that individuals are partof wider communities and have a part to play in making the wider community strongand its members happy. We explore topics such as Marriage and the Family, HumanRights, Ethical Issues, the Environment, Rich and Poor, Justice and Human Rights,War and Peace, all of which relate directly to the responsibility of an individualwithin the wider society. And through learning about different teachings, differentperspectives offered by the great world religions, by discussing and debating theissues which arise, our young people can become more aware, concerned andresponsible members of the community. Good RE can give our young people theskills and insights that help them to become more responsible citizens.ExperiencesExperiences in life are many and varied. There is failure as well as success, illness aswell as good health, poverty as well as wealth. Accidents and disasters happen, weencounter meanness and bullying, cruelty and horror - evil as well as all that is good.As Siddhatha Gautama discovered when he went out from his palace and saw life inits fullness, there is suffering, old age, sickness and death. RE is uniquely positionedto give our students insights into the realities of life and so prepare them for the many
  • 6. and varied experiences of adulthood. Good RE prepares our young people in a deepand rigorous way to think about and prepare for all the experiences of life.The Early Day MotionThese are only some of the many reasons why it is important for all our students tohave the experience of good RE as part of their education. The current situation isgrave. As I speak, schools all across the country, responding to the pressures of thenew English Baccalaureate, are marginalising this essential subject.Many people across the country are deeply concerned about this situation. An EarlyDay Motion on this subject has been tabled -Stephen Lloyd, MP for Eastbourne and Willingdon, has tabled an Early Day Motion asking forthe inclusion of Religious Studies in the EBac. The wording is as follows:That this House notes the recent publication of league tables of school performancemeasuring the proportion of pupils obtaining the English Baccalaureate; further notes that theEnglish Baccalaureate is awarded to pupils who gain GCSEs at Grade C or above in English,mathematics, science, a foreign language and a humanities subject; further notes withconcern that this list of approved subjects does not include religious education; recognisesthat religious education is an academically rigorous subject with increasing popularity amongpupils; further recognises that the rise of religious extremism around the world and in the UKmeans that a good understanding of all religions is vital to a well-rounded education; furthernotes that with the increasing emphasis on the English Baccalaureate as the primaryqualification for 16-year-olds schools are more likely to focus on the core subjects whichmake it up; and therefore calls on the Government to recognise the importance and relevanceof religious education by including it as a core subject in the English Baccalaureate.The question of RE and the English Baccalaureate was also debated recentlyhttp://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=8317&st=10:59:40(– see extracts enclosed as attachments). • Have you signed the Early Day Motion calling for RE to be included in the English Baccalaureate? • Can you assure me that you will fight for RE to be included as one of the Humanities options for the English Baccalaureate?RE, when taught well – by a specialist RE teacher - and especially when this includesprogression towards GCSE and A’level exams and beyond - is a very challenging andrigorous subject which prepares our students for adult life in a strong and effectiveway. Religion is about our personal quest for meaning and truth. It is also one of themost powerful forces in the world, impinging on many of the current issues in thenews. It is very important for our students to understand what religion is and to havesome insight into and appreciation of the different world religions at this time. It isbeneficial for the students as individuals and for society as a whole.Good RE is very popular in school because it encourages debate and discussion, itnurtures complex thinking skills, it increases self-understanding and offers anopportunity for students to express their own beliefs and ideas. It also enables them todevelop empathy and insight, to approach ‘diversity’ with interest and with an open-minded attitude and to appreciate and learn from the many differing perspectiveswhich shape our world. Without the capacity to understand people who have different
  • 7. views, there is more prejudice, fear and hatred. Quite simply, more people suffer –and it is likely that more will die.Religion in our world is a force which, when citizens are not educated in good RE,can contribute to suspicion, fear, prejudice, intolerance, division and conflict. But,when there is good RE it becomes a force for great inspiration and goodness. GoodRE is important. It matters. And it is being seriously undermined by the recentlegislation on the English Baccalaureate.So please, if you have not already done so, do sign the Early Day Motion – and jointhe fight to have RE included in the English Baccalaureate.Sincerely,DurgaMata Chaudhuri Specialist RE teacher, RE and Community Cohesion Consultant, Educationalist and director of Blue Lotus Enterprises (see www.bluelotus.co) Go to http://www.reactcampaign.co.uk/Groups/154997/RE_ACT.aspx and sign the online petition -URGENT PETITIONI am profoundly concerned about the exclusion of Religious Education from theHumanities options in the curriculum of the English Baccalaureate.Because Religious Education has the strong potential to increaseunderstanding and tolerance, building social cohesion in our increasinglydiverse society, I am calling on you now to include Religious Education as aHumanities option in the curriculum of the English Baccalaureate.