TES letters

26th September 2014 at 01:00

We must not lose faith in religious education

A C Grayling, an outspoken critic of religious belief, asserts that the study of religion should have no place in education (" `Worship in schools is insidious' ", Feature, 19 September).

He is correct that religion has its roots in ancient world views, which have in some regards been superseded by science. He is also correct that religion can be a malevolent force. However, it would not take an open-minded reader long to think of examples of not-so-benign secular philosophies and the not-so-benign results of scientific enquiry, as well as the good stemming from religious world views. All human endeavour is channelled through fallible institutions by flawed human beings.

Religions weave a mythological framework that engages the imagination and awakens the mind to a transcendent foundation for the world. It is no more necessary to dismiss religion because it does not operate according to the scientific method than it is to dismiss poetry as without merit in pointing towards truths about the human condition. It seems to me that educating people in religion is of great value in helping us to understand ourselves and how we might respond to the world.

A critical understanding of religious and philosophical world views is the basis of religious, moral and philosophical studies, which I have recently retired from teaching in Scotland. There, and elsewhere in the UK, religious world views are taught alongside scientific and secular humanist world views in relation to various existential and moral questions, without value judgements about which provides more meaning.

Professor Grayling is one of a group of erudite people from various disciplines who have a secular agenda. They attack religion but they too have a faith stance. Theirs is to preclude the possibility of the transcendent and assert, without evidence, that only science or philosophical enquiry proceeding on that basis can lead to the truth. Anyone who stands in the way of their secular agenda is subjected to attack and often ridicule.

Keith Wilson
Retired teacher, Edinburgh

I read A C Grayling's article after a whole-school Mass following the unexpected death of a colleague. A non-believer in a Catholic school, he would nevertheless have appreciated the prayers rather than regarding it merely as superstitious nonsense.

This week, I also taught part of the Summa Theologiae, in which St Thomas Aquinas argues: "It was necessary for man's salvation that there should be a knowledge revealed by God besides philosophical sciences built up by human reason." Is it really possible that Aquinas, John Milton, Martin Luther, Soren Kierkegaard and Elizabeth Anscombe - to name just a few of those who have studied religion - were all so much in error? And will TES publish a feature from an eminent Christian defending religious education and faith schools?

Hugh Walters
Head of theology, Downside School, Bath

I agree (almost) entirely with A C Grayling. Collective worship in schools has absolutely nothing to do with religious education. And as an RE teacher, I can confirm that the approach advocated by Professor Grayling is how we teach our subject. We use philosophy to explore, analyse, criticise and evaluate ideas, beliefs and practices. Why does he think otherwise?

Louis Kavanagh
Solihull, West Midlands

Can A C Grayling's article be made available for use in RE lessons? It is a classic example of atheistic fundamentalism. So he wants to replace RE with an all-encompassing history of ideas? But there is already a subject for that: history. Good RE explores how faith and belief are understood in the modern world. And it is less dismissive of other people's opinions.

He makes a good case for teaching philosophy, but I cannot see it inspiring anyone to change the world ("Let's do this for Socrates!"). Inspiration usually comes from engaging with examples of living, breathing people whose faith and beliefs and stories have transformed the lives of those around them.

Chris Hudson
Morpeth, Northumberland

Read Tom Bennett's response to A C Grayling

Teaching from every angle

So Ofsted wants to "get the balance right" between subjects in primary schools ("Ofsted may end focus on English and maths", 19 September). About time, too.

Schools in the Whole Education Network work to provide young people with a fully rounded education, developing their knowledge, skills and personal qualities. The new education secretary has spoken of the importance of building character. So maybe the tide is turning.

Inspections should answer two questions: is the school offering a high-quality educational experience for each child? And can it be improved? Then schools will feel better able to move away from the narrow curriculum incentivised in recent years.

John Dunford
Chair, Whole Education

Dissections go to the heart of the matter

We were pleased to see the coverage on dissections in TES ("Deep breath, kids, and take a butcher's at this" and Resources of the week, Professional, 5 September). We believe that incorporating dissection as a requirement of new biology A-levels, among other key techniques and skills, is a very positive step.

Practical work isn't just about assessment, it's about all the things mentioned in TES and more: getting students interested; making a subject real for them; and underpinning their learning. And by resolving why students do practical work, we will have a much better picture of how they should go about it.

Dr Steve Evans
Assistant head of GCSE and A-level reform, OCR, Cambridge


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