CHURCH leaders have given their blessing to teaching children about atheism as part of their religious education.
The Church of England will not oppose arguments from humanists that their philosophy should be taught alongside established religions such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism, as part of a national framework for RE.
Charles Clarke, Education Secretary, has met faith and other belief organisations over the past few weeks. He is expected to publish new rules governing the teaching of RE later this month.
The British Humanists Association website states that they "reject the idea of any supernatural agency intervening to help or hinder us". They believe moral values should be based on human nature and experience.
Canon John Hall, Church of England director of education, said: "RE needs to take account of the variety of answers to these questions. Obviously these are predominantly Christian but also other faith ones and humanist ones."
Canon Peter Humphrey, national adviser for RE for the Bishops' Conference, said: "I would expect a good syllabus to cover a wide-ranging programme to give an overview of religion to all students. Agnostics, atheists and humanists should have an input, and any other recognised philosophy."
Religious organisations have successfully resisted calls for RE to become part of the national curriculum. That would have forced voluntary-aided schools to teach the same RE syllabus as community schools.
Currently, local committees determine what children are taught and faith schools can change the curriculum to reflect their own beliefs. The aim is for a national framework or syllabus to be put in place to bring greater coherence to the subject while preserving Church schools' special status.
The Church of England is backing a national syllabus and has said it will expect its schools to follow one.
Marilyn Mason, education officer at the BHA, said: "It is important for pupils to get a full picture of the contemporary religious landscape and that includes non-belief. It also includes other beliefs that are ignored.
I could make a case for paganism being included."