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Religions and schooling

Different legal frameworks

The relationship between religion and education varies in the different constituent parts of the UK. The legal framework for schools is very similar in England and Wales, although education in (...)

The relationship between religion and education varies in the different constituent parts of the UK. The legal framework for schools is very similar in England and Wales, although education in Wales has become the responsibility of the devolved National Assembly. Scotland and Northern Ireland are considered separately below.

D 11 September 2012    ADavid Voas

Religiously based schools in England and Wales

When education became a state function, the schools operated by the Church of England were incorporated into the system under the terms of the 1902 Education Act. The structure has been revised (...)

When education became a state function, the schools operated by the Church of England were incorporated into the system under the terms of the 1902 Education Act. The structure has been revised by subsequent legislation, in particular the 1998 School Standards and Framework Act.
Some 5,000 schools are currently linked to the Church of England and the Church in Wales. Nearly a quarter of primary schools in the country are Anglican, as are about 6% of secondary schools. Because most church schools were established many decades ago, there are fewer in suburban areas than elsewhere.
The Catholic Church is also a major operator of schools, serving almost 10% of the total school population. Some Catholic schools are independent, but most – more than 1800 primary and close to 400 secondary schools – receive state funding. The state also supports some Methodist schools and about 70 associated with non-Christian religious groups; 42 of these are Jewish (see below).
State-supported denominational schools are allowed different levels of autonomy depending on whether they are ‘voluntary aided’ or ‘voluntary controlled’ schools. The religious organisation retains some financial responsibility for ‘voluntary aided’ schools. The school governors (the majority of whom are nominated by the church) decide whom to employ, which students to admit, and what kind of religious instruction and observance will be required. With ‘voluntary controlled’ schools, by contrast, the Local Authority employs the staff, has responsibility for admissions, and determines the content of the religious education syllabus.
In addition to these publicly funded schools, there are a substantial number of independent schools established or operated by religious groups. In 2011 there were 1010 independent faith schools educating approximately 305,776 pupils. Of those, 821 have a Christian ethos or are inter-denominational, 139 are Muslim and 46 are Jewish. There are moves to bring more faith-based schools into the state sector, though the topic is politically controversial.

D 11 September 2012    ADavid Voas

Religious education and collective worship in England and Wales

The 1944 Education Act made religious instruction mandatory in schools in England and Wales, although parents may withdraw their children from these classes. The initial emphasis on ‘religious (...)

The 1944 Education Act made religious instruction mandatory in schools in England and Wales, although parents may withdraw their children from these classes. The initial emphasis on ‘religious instruction’ has however given way to ‘religious education’, in which children are taught about religion rather than trained to be religious. The syllabi are organised at local level, but the 1988 Education Reform Act required that any new Religious Education syllabus must ‘reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian whilst taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain.’ Exactly what this provision means is open to debate.

Voluntary aided schools do not have to offer instruction on other religious traditions, but many of these schools did so anyway and in February 2006 the churches agreed that all schools should teach their pupils about other religions.
Standing Advisory Councils for Religious Education (SACREs) have a statutory responsibility to monitor state religious education in their area. Local religious bodies are represented on these councils, as are teachers and local authorities.

In addition to religious education, state supported schools in England and Wales are required to organise daily acts of ‘collective worship’, the majority of which should be ‘wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character’. Parents may withdraw their children if they wish. Local authorities may approve alternative arrangements, for example where most pupils are non-Christian. In practice the need to respect different faiths and the preferences of the non-religious – not least among the teaching staff – has meant that many schools make little effort to give these ‘acts’ a distinctively Christian or even religious character.

D 11 September 2012    ADavid Voas

Religion and education in Scotland

The 1872 Education Act made the state responsible for education in Scotland, with the Church of Scotland transferring control over its schools. Catholic schools became part of the state system (...)

The 1872 Education Act made the state responsible for education in Scotland, with the Church of Scotland transferring control over its schools. Catholic schools became part of the state system under the 1918 Education Act, so that in effect there is currently a system of state supported denominational schools. There are more than 400 Catholic schools in the public sector, as well as a number of schools established by the Scottish Episcopal Church and one Jewish primary school.

The Education (Scotland) Act 1980 requires education authorities and schools to provide both religious education and religious observance. The circular on religious observance from the Scottish Executive in 2005 stated that ‘In recognition of Scotland’s Christian heritage, schools are encouraged to use the rich resources of this tradition when planning religious observance’ – which seems a tentative endorsement of Christian worship rather than a prescription to organise it – and specified only that ‘every school should provide opportunities for religious observance at least six times in a school year’. Parents may withdraw their children, and in these cases ‘schools should make suitable arrangements for the child to participate in a worthwhile alternative activity. In no circumstances should a child be disadvantaged as a result of withdrawing from religious observance.’

D 11 September 2012    ADavid Voas

Religion and education in Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland the majority of Protestant children attend state controlled schools, while most Catholic children attend Catholic maintained schools. The latter are owned by the Catholic (...)

In Northern Ireland the majority of Protestant children attend state controlled schools, while most Catholic children attend Catholic maintained schools. The latter are owned by the Catholic Church but operated with public financial assistance. Thus there is in effect a system of state supported separate education.
‘Integrated schools’ taking a mixture of Protestant and Catholic children have existed since 1981. There are now some 60 such schools, about two-thirds of which are primary schools. Only 6.5% of the school population attends an integrated school.
Following an official request in 1991, the four largest denominations – the Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican and Methodist churches – prepared a core syllabus for religious education. The topics were those on which there was agreement, with additional material – whether confessional or on non-Christian religions – to be taught outside the core. It was adopted by the Department of Education for Northern Ireland in 1993.
To date few ‘controlled’ schools (mostly serving the Protestant population) have included material on other religions in the curriculum. There has been some coverage of world religions in Catholic maintained schools, at least beyond the primary level.

D 11 September 2012    ADavid Voas

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