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Hope research into Religious Education law hits national headlines

Liverpool Hope University research into a law allowing parents to withdraw their children from religious education has hit the national news headlines.

The study, published in the British Journal of Religious Education (RE), found that headteachers from across the England believe the law should be overturned.

School officials, as well as heads of RE, think instances when parents selectively removed their children from classes in protest at the teaching of Islam underlines why the law should be axed.

The research, carried out by Dr David Lundie and Dr Cathal O’Siochru, found that 41% of school leaders interviewed had received requests for students to be withdrawn from teaching about one religion.

Earlier this year members of a local education body in Essex blamed "integration issues" on a rise in such withdrawals.

Since it was published on Thursdays (June 27) the story has been covered by BBC Radio 4, BBC North West, the Times Educational Supplement, The Independent and the Daily Mail.

Dr O’Siochru and Dr Lundie compiled the first hard data on the process of parents taking their children out of RE classes in this country.

They found that 71% of the 450 headteachers and heads of RE surveyed think the withdrawal element of the 1944 Education Act is “no longer required”.

The right was included in the 75-year-old law to protect the rights of conscience of religious minorities from being forced to receive Christian religious instruction.

The research also found considerable legal confusion over the law, with 27% of participants incorrectly believing that parents who withdraw their children from RE need to provide the children with an alternative syllabus to follow. 

Others incorrectly thought parents could withdraw their children from other National Curriculum subjects on religious grounds, or that agreeing to such a withdrawal was at the school’s discretion.

Dr Lundie, who is also Director of the Centre for Education and Policy Analysis at Liverpool Hope University, said: “The current settlement, involving the parental right of withdrawal from RE but no other aspect of the curriculum on grounds of conscience, raises important questions about the wider contribution of RE to the life of the school.

“RE is bound up with the fundamental British values of mutual respect and tolerance for those of different faiths, so that it is hard to see how a school could support such a right without impacting on this wider duty of the school to prepare children for life in modern Britain.”   


Published on 02/07/2019