Lessons avoid 'boring' Bible

Graeme Paton

God is being edited out of RE study. Graeme Paton reports

God is being edited out of RE lessons by teachers frightened of boring pupils, say researchers.

Biblical stories such as the Good Samaritan and the battle between David and Goliath are often now used only to portray secular morality messages, according to an eight-year study.

It reveals that many schools present religion as if it belongs in museums or zoos - "living creatures in danger of extinction which have to be kept at a safe distance".

Terence Copley, professor of RE at Exeter university, said: "In Britain, we have got hung up about religion. We think it is something out of date and associated with elderly people going to church. But the reality is, across the planet religions are alive and well.

"If we want to understand humankind we have to understand religion."

Research by Biblos, a partnership between the Bible Society and Exeter university, says that most children retain a sense of spirituality, but teachers are reluctant to use the Bible in lessons.

Professor Copley said this meant pupils could not make informed choices about faith.

Just 8 per cent of the population regularly attend church according to the 2001 census even though 71 per cent of people describe themselves as Christian.

Last year the Office for Standards in Education said pupils were being taught ill-informed local syllabuses in RE lessons. A new non-statutory national framework has been launched.

The Biblos study, Teaching Biblical Narrative, attempts to draw on the key findings of three previous reports concentrating on teachers' and pupils'

attitudes to the Bible. It reveals that three-quarters of pupils said the Bible should be respected but only 18 per cent looked to it for "personal guidance" and just 16 per cent said they enjoyed reading the book.

Researchers blame ambivalence towards the Bible on teachers who "edit out" God from RE lessons. They said that other subjects have arisen, including citizenship, which "threaten RE's curriculum time".

Professor Copley said teacher training and professional development should emphasise the importance of the Bible, in particular telling the story of how it was written and encouraging pupils to interpret the text.

"Children need to understand how a text can cause them to re-examine their own values and to reflect upon their identity," the study says.

Terry Sanderson, vice-president of the National Secular Society, said:

"This smacks of indoctrination. The fact is children have rejected the Bible and it should not be forced upon them."

But Marilyn Mason, education officer at the British Humanist Association, said: "The Bible is part of our cultural heritage and it is difficult to portray the history of modern society without it."

And John Gay, the Church of England spokesman on RE, said: "There seems to be a sort of hostility towards Christianity that is not shown towards anything else in our society. In western society we tend to play down the religious dimension to such an extent that we are almost indoctrinating our children against religion."

Copies of the report are available from Biblos by email: biblos@ex.ac.uk

* graeme.paton@tes.co.uk

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