Urgent response required – extreme religion in the classroom

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1 Response

  1. Margaret Nelson says:

    Dear Ms Frankel,

    At the suggestion of the BHA, I’m responding to the article about the threats made against the head teacher of Landscore primary school by extremist religious parents.

    I’m a former teacher and a member of Suffolk’s SACRE who visits schools to talk about Humanism in RE conferences, courses and lessons. I was an art teacher but did some supply teaching too, which sometimes involved RE.

    In Suffolk SACRE, I initiated the introduction of guidelines for school visitors who contribute to RE lessons, school assemblies, or extra-curricular activities. I did this after coming across some shocking examples of blatant proselytising in county schools. The guidelines specifically prohibit proselytising.

    I strongly believe that state schools must be religiously neutral; that a teacher’s religious beliefs, or lack of them, should be private; and that parents must not be allowed to interfere with this. Just as it is unacceptable for a child to make racist comments in school, it is also unacceptable for him or her to make inflammatory comments of a religious nature. In a primary school, one must assume that a child who makes such comments would be parroting the opinions of a parent or someone else they are close to. They are in school to learn, to be educated about religion and other world views. If a child makes comments about hellfire and damnation, for example, he or she must be firmly told that such judgemental comments are unacceptable in school. Teachers need training to deal with such extreme beliefs. In my experience, there are more teachers with strong religious beliefs in primary schools than in secondary schools, which may mean that some will feel ambivalent about being clear on these issues. For this reason, training is especially important.

    The example of head teacher Erica Connor, who was awarded £400,000 damages from Surrey County Council by the High Court for their failure to support her, should make Devon County Council think about the support they give to Mr Read at Landscore Primary School. Personally, I’d want to see the offending parents and those they associate with (it’s clearly an orchestrated campaign) subject to whatever legal penalties are available, and Mrs Cain should be sacked.

    Since Tony Blair was Prime Minister, a culture of indulgence and deference towards religious opinion and authority has developed that has no place in a secular society. No other section of society has been treated in the same muddled way. Allowing children to challenge school uniform rules by wearing religious jewellery or clothing, with the excuse that their religion (or their parents’ religion) demands it, is setting a precedent that undermines a school’s ethos and authority. Would apologists for such behaviour tolerate children wearing anything that symbolised their supposedly sincerely held extreme nationalist beliefs? Or something that symbolised one of the fringe belief systems, such as witchcraft? Why should Christianity or Islam get preferential treatment?

    The Archbishop of York’s comments were very unhelpful, and completely wrong. Religion should be left at the county school gates. If parents want faith with their children’s education, let them pay privately to send them to a faith school.


    Margaret Nelson

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