Tag Archives: religious education

The Light is shining on Religious Education in England

Imran Mogra is a Senior Lecturer in religious education and professional studies, and a member of CSPACE. He is Departmental Research Co-ordinator of the Department of Early Years and Primary Education. In this post, Imran discusses a recent report proposing a national plan for religious education. Follow Imran on twitter @imranmogra.

Religion and Worldviews The Way Forward A National Plan for RE 2On September 12th 2018, the Commission on Religious Education (RE) launched its final report Religion and Worldviews: The Way Forward: A National Plan for RE, making eleven far-reaching recommendations for the future of the study of RE. The report is an important step in promoting further debate about the purpose, structure, legal framework and organisation of this important subject.

The review was undertaken as a response to major concerns expressed over the years regarding the overall dwindling status, quality and provision of RE in schools. Of the varied and broad recommendations, probably the most significant, innovative, and perhaps controversial, is the creation of a statutory national entitlement for all children in public schools. The Commission conducted a two-year period of consultation, evidence gathering session and engaged with individuals and interested parties, which resulted in the publication of Interim Report.

This important report is welcomed for highlighting some of the issues troubling the RE community, schools and teachers. Its significance ought to be considered in light of the vision it sets out for the new National Plan for RE so that RE is retained as an academically rigorous and a knowledge-rich preparation for life in a world of great religion and belief diversity. The Foreword highlights that the report:

  • Offers a new vision: The subject should explore the important role that religious and non-religious worldviews play in all human life.
  • All pupils should have access to high quality teaching, whatever school they attend.
  • There should be significant investment – finance, teacher development and local structures

It recommends that the name be changed to Religion and Worldviews. This is certainly going to prove irksome for some, but will be welcomed by others. Perhaps it is intended to indicate a new aspirational dawn for RE. However, I am not wholly convinced about the impact that the change might have, should it hinge solely on the idea of being inclusive, i.e. of ‘worldviews’. The QCA 2004 had recommended that for a broad and balance RE, there should be opportunities for all pupils to study secular philosophies such as humanism and many local syllabuses do include secular philosophies. Nevertheless, as with previous questions raised about the breadth of scope in terms of which religious should be included, I see the use of ‘worldviews’ leading to a similarly problematic debate about which non-religious worldviews to include and for what purposes. It is important to ask what the inclusion/exclusion criteria will be.

According to recommendation 2, a national entitlement to the study of Religion and Worldviews should become statutory for all publicly funded schools. Since the beginning of the process, I have found my position in relation to the proposal of a statutory national entitlement moving in a pendulum-like swing. How will such an entitlement guarantee a significant increase in the quantity of high-quality teaching? Is it so with history and geography, for example? On the other hand, it might strengthen assessment and monitoring, which may impact positively on school attitudes to valuing this subject. It can certainly guarantee a curriculum for ‘all’ pupils in all types of schools so that a situation can be created whereby a baseline of religious literacy is delivered nationally. Of course, it is important to temper this with a note of caution. How will such a programme be enforced through Ofsted inspections?

It says that a programme of study should be developed by a national body of a maximum of nine professionals, including serving teachers. The emphasis on professionals appears to be a clear message for the determination of the nature of the subject to be within the confines of education, which is vital for addressing misunderstandings and the myth about RE being confessional and indoctrinatory in schools. The inclusion of serving teachers is also welcomed, as there is the clear potential for the body to be kept informed by insider viewpoints and from those working on the ground. It states that this body ‘could choose’ to take advice from other organisations where appropriate, though some might perceive this as watering down the role of faith communities, stakeholders in this debate?

There has been considerable debate and concern about the removal of the right of withdrawal from the subject. Currently, parents can withdraw their children from RE. The report recommends that the DfE should review the right of withdrawal and provide legal clarification. Calling on the DfE ‘to review’ seems that a softer approach has been taken by the Commission. It presents a clear indication that the removal of this will remain a thorny issue. To alleviate concerns related to withdrawal it expects the DfE to work with school leaders to develop a code of good practice for managing the right of withdrawal. Unfortunately, the report offers very little in terms of evidence and direct voices of those who wish for this right to be retained.

There is much to commend in this independent report: the proposals to raise the profile and significance of the subject, the need for well-trained teachers, improvements and funding in CPD, the continuation of the statutory nature of the subject up to KS4, incorporating the subject into vocational qualifications.

The eleven recommendations are significant for moving this debate on and stimulate a different kind of conversation about this important, yet often neglected, subject. It remains for the government to consider them thoroughly at a time when there appears to be a decline in religious literacy, seemingly in correlation with increasing levels of prejudice, fear, hatred and violence.

The making of a good Muslim Brit

Imran Mogra, Senior Lecturer in Religious Education and Professional Studies at Birmingham City University, explores some of the key findings from a recent review into existing research on societal perceptions from Muslim families.  

The Aziz Foundation, Barrow Cadbury Trust, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and Unbound Philanthropy commissioned Ipsos MORI to review existing research on Muslims. This is a useful piece of research, not least in consolidating existing knowledge and challenging some preconceived notions about Muslims, but also as it assists in identifying the nature and areas for future research. The datasets used in this study were taken from 2010-2016 and the commercial/media surveys from 2015- Dec 2016. This post presents a summary of the key findings from this research.

Population

According to the Ipsos MORI review, the British public hugely overestimates the number of Muslims, leading some to predict that their population will triple. The public thinks that around one in six Britons are Muslim, rather than the correct figure of fewer than one in twenty.

The public’s views about Muslims are mixed and their understanding of Islam is limited. Younger people, however, tend to be better informed and more positive in their attitudes, and knowing someone who is Muslim also makes a positive difference. This demonstrates the need for continued interaction in all sections of society, especially through education and youth channels. Significantly, a third of Muslims are below the age of 15, and half are under 25 years old. This raises implications for society in general and the Muslim communities in particular in ensuring that they have high aspiration and high aspirations for all young people.

Education

Education is important to Muslims. They are much more likely to feel that their level of education is part of their self-identity than are most Britons: 55% of Muslims say their education is important to their sense of who they are, compared to 35% of Christians.

The Ipsos MORI review found that Muslim parents have higher educational aspirations for their children than other parents— slightly higher for Muslim girls than for Muslim boys, but in both cases much higher than the national average. 70% of parents with a Muslim daughter said it was ‘very likely’ that she would go to university, and 64% said the same about their Muslim sons, compared to 43% for non-Muslim girls and 34% for non-Muslim boys. This appears insightful especially in relation to the oft purported stereotype of Muslim attitudes towards female education. Though encouraging, it would be interesting to learn about their career destinations.

Identity and belonging

Most Muslims in Britain live in ethnically-mixed areas. Younger Muslims and graduates are also more likely to have diverse friendship groups than older Muslims and non-graduates. Muslims have a strong sense of belonging to Britain and of feeling part of British society. Most Muslims in Britain consider themselves to be “British”, rather than “English”, “Scottish”, “Welsh” or “Northern Irish”, and most feel that this is their only national identity. A majority thinks that more interaction should take place between different religious and ethnic groups. 45% of under 24s said at least half of their friends are from outside their ethnic group.

Religion

Religion plays an important part in the lives and identity of most Muslims, particularly those who are UK graduates. Interestingly, a strong sense of religious identity sits alongside a strong sense of British identity. Muslims are more likely than the British public as a whole to say that their national identity is important to their sense of who they are (55% of Muslims say this, compared to 44% of all adults).

The vast majority (94%) of Muslims feel able to practice their religion freely in Britain, and most believe that Islam is compatible with the British way of life. Five in six Muslims (83%) agree that “it is possible to fully belong to Britain and maintain a separate cultural or religious identity”; and two-thirds (66%) of Britons regardless of religion agree within them.

The report found that more than half pray at least five times a day or engage in worship of some kind. To meet their spiritual and religious need mosques are needed, which goes someway to explain the estimated 1,500 mosques in Britain.

Politics

In terms of political engagement, the majority (64%) of Muslims say that they are satisfied with the way that democracy works in this country, a higher than the satisfaction levels  with the democratic process across the British public as a whole, and more likely to express trust in democratic institutions. Moreover, Muslims are more likely than the rest of the public to believe that being active in politics can bring benefits, although many feel they have little influence over the decisions that affect them.

Community engagement and charitable

Giving is regarded as highly important in Islam. Most British Muslims donate to charity. Three-quarters (72%) say they have given in the last year, with older Muslims, graduates and those living outside London donating more than younger Muslims, non-graduates and Londoners.

Prejudice

Some Muslims feel that there is prejudice and mistrust against them. The majority take the opposite view; and seven in ten (70%) Muslims feel they are treated fairly by the government. Nevertheless, prejudice against Muslims is felt to be increasing, particularly by Muslim graduates and young Muslims, and a significant minority believes Muslims do not get the same life opportunities as others. One in four (27%) Muslims say they have experienced discrimination; this rises to one in three (34%) for graduates and Muslims aged 18-24.

Employment

More than 7% of Muslims are unemployed, compared with 4% of the UK population as a whole. The hostile climate is holding back some Muslims in work places and several barriers have been identified including impact of the rise in Islamophobia as evident in the House of Common Report. These reveal that there is some reluctance to hire Muslim women as they prioritise family commitments and caring duties. Statistics need to reflect this more and, perhaps link it to a wider social attitude regarding the choices and preferences of some. The age demographic of Muslim women with young families, religio-culutral values and affordable childcare or gender discrimination are additional factors.

Social attitudes

Muslims tend to have more conservative attitudes. Close to half of Muslim men and a third of Muslim women agree that “Wives should always obey their husbands”. Most Muslims participate in traditional British cultural practices, even those with explicitly Christian origins. At Christmas, three-quarters (73%) send cards and three in five give presents, and many also send Mother’s Day or Father’s Day cards, and wear a poppy on Remembrance Day. But most do not put up a Christmas tree. I wonder which headline will feature in the newspaper, the former potentially reinforces stereotypes, and the latter reflects contemporary multi-faith Britain. The tendency it seems is to highlight controversial elements which aid in polarising the community and underplay the positive aspect of the community. Indeed, this highlights a broader issue relating to the representation of Muslims in mainstream media, a point to which I return later in this piece.

Terrorism

Across numerous surveys, only a tiny percentage of Muslims have expressed support or sympathy for terrorism. The reports notes that a recent 2016 survey found that on any act relating to violence, there were notably higher levels of condemnation among Muslim communities than for the population as a whole. Indeed, if anything, sympathy for terrorist violence in the general population (4%) was higher than among Muslims (2%). The vast majority (94%) of Muslims say they would report activities supporting violent extremism to the police, only a minority (16%) say they have come across such activities and these were mainly on internet sites.

Public views

There is a mixed picture on how the public as a whole views Muslims – some measures find a broadly positive or neutral view, others a more negative impression – but younger people are consistently more positive. Most (57%) of the British public do not feel that they have much knowledge or understanding of Islam, and surveys confirm that misconceptions are often widespread.

Victim of crime

Muslims are much more worried about being a victim of crime than average. In 2010-11, Muslims were twice as likely as adults in England and Wales as a whole to be very worried about becoming a victim of crime: 15% were very worried, and 33% fairly worried; for all adults the figures were 8% and 27% respectively.

A NUS survey has found third of Muslim students have experienced abuse or crime at their place of study in the UK, with most victims believing it was motivated by Islamophobia. The community is concerned about physical attacks targeted towards them due their skin religion, colour and ethnic origin.

The role that the media have played in perpetuating stereotypes which do little to dispel potential Muslim hate cannot be understated and is worthy of a much more detailed comment than I can give here. In my view, a more principled position on the reporting and depiction of Muslims needs to be taken, and a wider conversation needs to be started on this issue, including that of a definitive definition of Islamophobia.

The Muslim community should continue to strive in nurturing their youth to be good Muslims. The findings suggest a good Muslim is a Good Brit!

Imran Mogra