Most parents want to know what their children are being taught in school.
That’s easy with pretty much every subject, you can just check the National Curriculum details.
But when it comes to religious education, finding out what goes on in the classroom is not always so simple.
Some schools buy course content from an organisation called RE Today, and a report by the National Secular Society is damning about the secrecy surrounding these syllabuses.
“As part of the licencing agreement, the syllabus is not to be reproduced or published openly,” wrote report author Chris Selway, a retired RE teacher.
“So, unlike the National Curriculum, what children are learning in many schools is hidden behind password protected websites.
“This is highly unusual and conflicts with the interests of parents, school visitors and the general public who have provided the funding.”
The report refers to refer to the Model A and B syllabuses provided by RE Today. The Model A syllabus has the effect of “legally obliging teachers in many schools to follow a syllabus that was designed to suit the expectations of the small minority of the more evangelical C of E schools”. The Model B syllabus means “that a great many community schools nationally are now following a syllabus that is deferential to the C of E’s expectations for the subject”.
RE Today says that its course content complies with Government guidelines and is made available under licence to regional bodies known as standing advisory councils on religious education.
“There is no legal requirement to make this available to the public at large,” said spokeswoman Mubina Khan-Daniels.
“All schools covered by such a licence are trained to deliver the syllabus and can inform parents of what their children are learning in the RE classroom through a summary document provided by RE Today that they can publish on their website.”
RE Today is part of a charity called Christian Education, an openly religious movement that also runs the International Bible Reading Association.
It insists that its school material produces “a broad and balanced programme”, but should any group with such an obvious motive for pushing one religious view be allowed anywhere near the classroom?
Alastair Lichten, head of education at the National Secular Society, is in no doubt.
“This subject area needs to be wrested away from vested interests,” he said.
“Governments have failed to take a lead on the way religion and belief should be taught. This leaves RE vulnerable to the agendas of groups which produce resources to shape how their religion is covered.
“Religious groups’ interests shouldn’t get in the way of the educational needs of young people growing up in 21st century Britain.”