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podcast reignites questions about the place of religion in English and Welsh schools

Writer : Céline Benoit, Senior Educating Fellow, Sociology and Coverage, Aston College

A latest podcast collection on the 2013-14 Trojan Horse affair – an alleged however unproven plot to implement a strict Islamic ethos in some colleges in Birmingham – has drawn consideration to the place that faith occupies in state-funded schooling in England and Wales.

Whereas some nations comparable to France or the USA make a transparent separation between church and state and don’t enable faith in state-funded colleges, in England and Wales colleges are legally required to carry each day acts of collective worship that have to be broadly Christian in character, except colleges get hold of permission to offer various worship.

Learn extra:
The Trojan Horse affair: Islamophobia scholar on the lengthy shadow solid by the scandal

All state-funded colleges are additionally required to show non secular schooling (RE) courses. Whereas Christianity occupies a privileged place in RE, for the previous 50 years pupils in England and Wales have additionally been studying about and from different “world religions”, comparable to Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, or Sikhism. Since 2015, colleges have additionally been required to educate about non-religious worldviews.

Nonetheless, my analysis exhibits that RE educating will be problematic. The kids in my research tended to be unaware of the range of beliefs and practices inside “world religions”. They often conflated non secular belonging with ethnic id.

The Trojan Horse affair not solely uncovered fears concerning the presence of Islam in English colleges – colleges which served a majority Muslim inhabitants – but in addition make clear broader points round non secular belonging and what it means to be British.

Operation Trojan Horse

On 27 November 2013, Birmingham Metropolis Council obtained an nameless letter that leaked items of supposed correspondence between Muslim fundamentalists, detailing an alleged plot – Operation Trojan Horse – to take over state-funded colleges situated in Muslim areas in Birmingham and promote a strict Islamic ethos.

Inquiries didn’t discover proof to assist the concept of a plot to take over colleges, and the Trojan Horse letter is taken into account to be pretend. Nonetheless, stories did discover an effort to introduce an Islamic ethos into some colleges, and run them as religion colleges.

View of outside of school building
Nansen major faculty, one of many colleges investigated through the Trojan Horse scandal.
David Warren / Alamy Inventory Photograph

In consequence, the federal government responded by implementing the anti-terrorism Stop technique in colleges. It additionally made it a requirement for all colleges to advertise “basic British values”.

Implementing “basic British values” begs the query of what it means to be essentially British. For the UK authorities, it means adhering to the next values: democracy, the rule of regulation, particular person liberty, and mutual respect for and tolerance of these with completely different faiths and beliefs and for these with out religion.

By selling these values, colleges are anticipated to “strengthen boundaries to extremism”, and put together pupils for all times in trendy Britain.

Students have argued that these values should not inherently British, however by labelling them as such, it has despatched the message that British values and Islam conservatism are incompatible. It’s about who belongs to the in-group, and who’s “othered”.

One approach to promote respect and tolerance for these with completely different faiths and beliefs and for these with out religion is thru RE courses. Analysis, nonetheless, exhibits that each one too usually lecturers are poorly outfitted to show RE adequately – maybe resulting from a scarcity of topic information or insecurity. The 2015 RE for REal report recognized a niche between the “actual faith and perception panorama” and the one “imagined by the bulk”.

Educating the “different”

With a purpose to examine what that “imagined” panorama would possibly seem like in colleges, between 2010 and 2015 I visited 18 major colleges throughout the West Midlands and spoke to lecturers and pupils. The information revealed that kids discovered it troublesome to find themselves inside RE, no matter their non secular or non-religious background.

Most kids considered RE as a approach to find out about individuals who have been completely different to them, moderately than about themselves.

For instance, after I requested Tom, a yr six pupil, whether or not he thought RE was an necessary subject, he stated sure, “should you go to a special nation”. After I requested him if RE was nonetheless related if he was to remain in England, his response was “Sure, as a result of it means, if they arrive over right here, you can also make them really feel like they’re at residence.”

As “world religions” are introduced as un-diverse, in some circumstances this led to pupils being not sure about their very own non secular identities. This was the case for Adil:

[My teacher] says that Muslims pray 5 occasions a day. […] So I’m undecided. I’d undoubtedly say I’m a Muslim. However I don’t know if that’s the suitable phrase ‘cos I don’t pray 5 occasions a day … However I’d say it’s.

In different cases, kids felt that their non secular traditions was misrepresented, as did Rajan: “Typically [my teacher] says one thing mistaken.” In consequence, kids weren’t solely more likely to really feel alienated, however have been additionally “othered” as they didn’t conform to dominant narratives.

My analysis exhibits that it’s time we paid nearer consideration to how non secular communities are represented in RE.

Many throughout the RE neighborhood are more and more conscious of the boundaries of the “world religions” method, and are calling for a transfer in the direction of the research of faith and worldviews, with a purpose to be extra consultant of the non secular and non-religious communities that dwell in Britain, and meet the wants of our various society.

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