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Britain is great for those with faith

Faith schools - in particular Muslim ones - appeared to come under attack this week from David Bell, chief inspector of schools, for the quality of their teaching of citizenship.

However, reading the speech itself reveals an important issue which seems to have been missed by most of the press in their rush to headline a controversy.

David Bell reasserted the responsibility of all schools to ensure pupils receive an understanding of their own faith and other faiths. Similarly, introducing the national guidelines for religious education, the then Education Secretary Charles Clarke said that "pupils should be confident about being able to share their beliefs without fear of embarrassment or ridicule". This is a far cry from the fundamentalist secularism, which in many countries excludes discussion of religion from the state school curriculum.

Christians in this country are often unaware of the fact that, almost uniquely in the western world, our education system attempts to take faith seriously.

Compare this with the United States with its interminable constitutional wrangles over church and state, or France with its rigidly secular education (which even bans wearing religious symbols above a certain size).

In England and Wales, RE and collective worship are legal requirements, and spiritual development is a key function of the whole curriculum. These are things for which Christians should be grateful, but which we should support and encourage.

So how much help do those of us outside education give those in churches "called" to school - both staff and pupils? Scripture Union, together with agencies such as the Association of Christian Teachers, CARE for Education and the Stapleford Centre, works hard to support these people. In a Britain where so few young people have direct contact with churches, we believe that is also a key task for every church.

Emlyn Williams Head of Schools Scripture Union England Wales, 207-209 Queensway Bletchley, Milton Keynes

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