A Religious Education and Collective Worship Opt Out survey by Senior Lecturer in Education Dr David Lundie has raised concerns over parents withdrawing their children from Religious Education (RE).
The extensive survey was circulated in February 2018 to headteachers at 24,600 primary and secondary schools across England, as well as being advertised through a range of professional networks and social media.
The research found that 71.2 per cent of schools had experienced a parent ask to withdraw their child from Religious Education or collective worship. Furthermore, 38.1 per cent had experienced a parent ask to withdraw from only a part of RE, e.g. just the teaching of Islam.
Additionally 22.4 per cent had experienced parents asking to withdraw their child from another curriculum subject for religious reasons. However, only three schools reported more than 10 students currently exempt from RE or collective worship.
Commenting on these results, Dr Lundie said: “ It was surprising how many Heads and teachers told us in no uncertain terms that racism and Islamophobia were the motives for parents withdrawing their children from RE. This is the opposite of the thinking that inspired the right to withdraw, which was designed to protect religious minorities at a time when RE was quite unlike the multi-faith model we know today. These findings highlight that the right of withdrawal is in urgent need of review."
There are now calls for the Government to take steps to prevent parents from selectively withdrawing their children, specifically from the teaching of individual religions.
The 1944 Education Act provided for parents to have the legal right to withdraw their child from religious education and collective worship, a provision which was created when 'religious instruction' was largely Protestant Christian, but which remains in force today despite the subject having changed entirely.
Teachers were given the current legal settlement on parental opt-out, and asked whether they were happy for this right to continue, or whether it ought to be removed. Of those, 34.2 per cent were in favour of retaining parental right of withdrawal, while 65.8 per cent believed it was no longer needed.