Minority religions such as the Baha'i faith, Jainism and Zoroastrianism are all likely to feature in the first national advisory framework for the teaching of religious education in schools, The TES can reveal.
A draft of the highly contentious guidance on RE says pupils should also be taught about humanism and other major faiths observed in the UK alongside Christianity. But it makes no mention of atheism.
Controversy flared over the weekend after it was reported that the framework, which will be non-statutory but is likely to be taken up as advice by schools, included a suggestion that pupils should study atheism.
The Institute for Public Policy Research, a left-leaning think tank, said that the subject should be renamed religious, philosophical and moral education and that the atheist point of view should be acknowledged.
The draft framework, dated February 5 and seen by The TES, says:
* Christianity should be taught during each key stage of children's learning;
* The other principal UK religions, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism should be taught by the end of key stage 4.
Minority religions, such as Baha'i, Jainism and Zoroastrianism, which are followed by only a few thousand people in the UK, should feature "in addressing local needs and circumstances", it adds.
The Baha'i faith, the religion of the late Government scientist David Kelly, respects the truth of other religions. Jainists believe that all plants and animals have souls. One of the traditions of Zoroastrianism is that the dead should be eaten by vultures.
Detailed guidance within the framework suggests that older pupils will be expected to take an analytical approach to the study of religion.
For example, pupils at national curriculum level 7, should be able to "critically evaluate a range of sources of religious and philosophical authority".
The study of Christianity is mentioned in the introduction to what should be studied in each key stage.
The guidance also says: "Pupils should be encouraged to see diversity and difference as positive rather than potentially threatening."
The framework, to be introduced from September, is a compromise by ministers, who are keen to standardise and improve the teaching of RE.
This month's annual report by David Bell, chief inspector, said that many secondaries are breaking the law by failing to provide RE for 14 to 16-year-olds. He said there was less specialist teaching of RE than of any other subject.
Though the subject has to be taught in schools, it is not part of the national curriculum. From September, local committees and faith schools will remain free to decide whether to adopt the framework.
The draft seen by The TES will be rewritten at least twice before being published for consultation in April.
Some church leaders have backed lessons that cover atheism, and others within the RE community have pointed out that it is difficult to cover the subject properly without looking at issues of non-belief.
It is understood that the advice on other major UK religions may be tightened up to include a recommendation that these are studied in both primary and secondary schools.
WHO'S WHO IN THE WORLD OF MINORITY RELIGIONS
Founded in 1844 by a young Iranian, Mirza Husayn Ali, it grew out of the Shi'ite branch of Islam and is one of the world's youngest religions.
Its central idea is that all religions have true and valid origins.
There are six million Baha'is in the world, and around 6,000 in Britain.
David Kelly, the Iraqi weapons expert whose death led to the Hutton inquiry, was a Baha'i.
Dates to at least 850BC from India, but not associated with a single founder.
Jains believe that all animals and plants have souls, each of which is of equal value, and in living lives of harmlessness and renunciation. Jains are strict vegetarians and see celibacy as the ideal.
Most live in India - recent census put numbers there at 3.2 million. In the UK there are 25,000-30,000 Jains.
One of the oldest religions, founded in Persia by Zarathrushtra, scholars believe between 1500 and 1000BC.
Zoroastrians believe there is a cosmic battle taking place between good and evil, which good, or God, can only win if humanity takes His side.
Monotheistic, Zoroastrians are born into the faith and have to marry within the religion.
The dead are traditionally left at the top of a tower to be eaten by vultures. Traditional teachings oppose homosexuality.
Estimated 140,000 worldwide, mainly in Iran and India.