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Mark Ellse: Former Education Secretary moves to abolish Christian teaching


At first glance, the Westminster Faith Debate’s pamphlet co-authored by former Education Secretary Charles Clarke, sounds reasonable. On the subject of school assemblies, the former Education Secretary writes that their “form and character […] should be left to the governors of the individual schools.”

Speaking on the Today programme yesterday, Clarke said we are seventy years on from legislation that requires schools to have an act of collective worship that is predominantly Christian in character. “The nature of Christianity has changed, forms of religion has changed […] church attendance has changed […] we have a far wider range of faith in our schools now than then”.

But when we delve further into the pamphlet, we see the Devil is in the detail. As it turns out, Clarke does not “believe in a Supreme Being” and the impartial sounding Westminster Faith Debate is in fact an instrument to promote his own views.

The recent pamphlet ‘A New Settlement: Religion and Belief in Schools’ reveals his agenda.

It recommends “an agreed national syllabus” for religious education. It is hard to resist a chuckle when one reads the “nationally-agreed syllabus would be determined by the Secretary of State in agreement with a newly created ‘National Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (NASACRE)”. NASACRE is not just another quango with a silly acronym. Its proposed remit is frightening. It would be given the power to decide what can and cannot be taught about religious education in schools.

The paper further recommends “that religious instruction (even of a kind which does not include coercion, or distortion of other religions or beliefs) does not take place within the school day”. In other words, children at school should not be told anything about religion that is not on the National Syllabus. 

The Westminster Faith Debate has no place for the traditional role of Christianity in education.

We should not instruct children about Christianity. We should not teach the story of the Good Samaritan, or the Woman at the Well, and the way that these stories remind us of the worth of other races. We should not tell children about the Prodigal Son and God’s infinite mercy offered freely to those who turn to him. The concept of turning the other cheek, or the reminder within the Lord’s Prayer that God’s forgiveness of us is not dependent on our own righteousness but strongly linked to our forgiveness of others we will never dare mention.

Lest you think that independent schools be free from control, Clarke recommends “the government…considers legislating to require all schools to adopt this syllabus.” In other words, no school may instruct children in Christianity.

Forget any arguments about British values being based on Christianity. Forget thoughts of eternal truths which are foundational to our society. This baby is going out with the bathwater.

Charles Clarke wants ultimate power in deciding the religious education of all children, and the abolition of Christian instruction from our schools.

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Mark Ellse
Mark Ellse
Mark Ellse is a physicist and author. He is a former headmaster, independent school inspector and A level chief examiner.

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