Schools should not be forced to remove "all references to religion" in the aftermath of the Trojan Horse scandal, the Church of England’s new head of education has warned.
The Reverend Nigel Genders was announced as the next chief education officer for the CofE today and will take over the role when the current incumbent, the Rev Jan Ainsworth, retires this summer.
And speaking to TES, Rev Genders said faith schools played a vital part in the education of young people in England, adding that they teach students about the different religions in society around them.
“Many of the schools in Birmingham identified were not schools with religious characters, and are not faith schools,” Rev Genders said. “But the answer is not to remove every reference of religion in school. Children need to understand the different faiths in the world in which they live and you don’t do that by removing all references of religion.”
The situation in Birmingham, in which 21 schools were inspected by Ofsted amid allegations of religious extremism and radicalisation, had led secularists and non-faith groups to call for a wider review of the role of religion in schools.
Reports published by the schools watchdog and the Education Funding Agency revealed incidences such as a chair of governors introducing a "madrasa" (a type of Islamic religious school) programme of study into the curriculum, whereas governors at another school attempted to impose and promote a "narrow faith-based ideology" into non-religious schools by narrowing the curriculum and manipulating staff appointments.
The revelations prompted the British Humanist Association to claim that such behaviour would only be stopped once “no school is legally able to discriminate against any pupil, parent or member of staff”.
BHA chief executive Andrew Copson said: “While controversy has raged about these admittedly serious problems, there has been no similar level of concern expressed about the all-too-common situation where a pupil is unable to get into their local Church of England school because their parents are not Christian; a teacher is unable to find employment at a Catholic school because they are not Catholic; or a child is left distressed or sidelined because of Christian proselytising in an assembly in a school with no religious character.
“While these situations are allowed to continue, it is no surprise that some people of another faith will take existing schools of no religious character and effectively treat them as their own faith schools.”
But Rev Genders said that the majority of CofE schools did not select on the basis of faith and added that all church schools provide a broad and balanced curriculum that give students a “fully-rounded education that offers the whole breadth of a spiritual, moral and cultural education”.
“We need to make sure children are prepared [for the wider world] and you don’t do that by silencing religion, you do it through education,” he added.
Trojan Horse: Five schools placed in special measures - June 2014
Hunt: Ofsted 'must answer questions' over Trojan Horse scandal - June 2014
'Trojan Horse is a complex saga from which almost no one involved comes out well' - June 2014