Schools Week invited the Catholic Education Service to give more details about its decision to change how it teaches RE at GCSE (Schools Week, November 6). It is a decision, says the service, that has been much misinterpreted . . .

Many of the recent headlines about the teaching of RE in Catholic schools have distorted the reality of the new RE GCSE and what actually goes on in Catholic schools.

Let’s be clear, Catholic schools are not “banning” the teaching of Islam nor are we “shunning” them from our GCSE syllabus. Pupils in Catholic schools will continue learning about Islam and the world’s other main religions and belief systems.

Just because pupils will not be examined on faiths other than Christianity and Judaism, doesn’t mean to say the other world religions will not be taught.

Pupils in Catholic schools will continue learning about Islam

The Catholic Bishop’s Conference Religious Education Curriculum Directory — the authoritative document that outlines the teaching of RE in Catholic schools — is clear that a broad understanding of the world’s major religions is crucial to a child’s understanding of his or her own faith.

In compliance with the local bishop’s wishes, most Catholic schools are currently teaching 100 per cent Catholic Christianity for GCSE RE.

The bishops have, however, long recognised the need for greater academic rigour in the RE GCSE curriculum, which is why they are welcoming the new GCSE and the opportunity to study a second religion.

Judaism was chosen for two primary reasons. First, we are taking this opportunity to advance the cause of Christian/Jewish relationships, a historic step in building bridges with a community that Pope John Paul II referred to as “our elder brothers in faith”.

Many of our critics this week have claimed the bishops’ decision goes directly against Pope Francis’ call for greater tolerance between the faiths. The irony is, by embracing a second religion at GCSE, the bishops are doing precisely what the Pope is calling for.

In fact, we are working with leading figures in the Jewish community to help train our teachers so they can teach Judaism with the same level of expertise that they teach Catholic Christianity. This is an essential part of delivering outstanding RE.

This is also exactly the kind of co-operation and mutual understanding that Pope Francis is talking about. Similarly, many Catholic schools have good working relationships with mosques and imams who assist in the teaching of Islam at primary and secondary level.

Second, we are fully supportive of the new more academically rigorous nature of the RE GCSE, and by teaching Judaism as the second religion, pupils will be able to get a more thorough understanding of Christianity.

Much of the negativity fired at us this week has been down to a misunderstanding about the role of RE in Catholic schools. For us, religious education is at the heart of everything we do. It encompasses at least 10 per cent of the schools’ timetables and goes far beyond the “compare and contrast” style of RE you find in other schools.

It is because of this commitment to RE, and the importance we place on it, that we’re championing these reforms. To gain a thorough understanding of the more than 2,000 years of Catholic theology and culture, the teaching of Judaism is essential. After all, Jesus himself was Jewish.

Changes to any curriculum, especially RE, can be controversial, However, our RE advisers at both a national and diocesan level are providing support to help teachers with this change.

While it is true that some of our schools have a large proportion of pupils from other faiths (across England, 30 per cent of our pupils are either not Catholic or non-religious) the primary role of a Catholic school is to provide a Catholic Christian education.

Catholic schools are the most ethnically diverse in the country and it is this inclusivity along with the Catholic ethos that makes them so successful in promoting community cohesion.


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