HC Deb 05 August 1965 vol 717 cc1861-3
17. Mr. Newens

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will review the provisions governing religious education in State schools.

Mr. Crosland

No, Sir.

Mr. Newens

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the widespread dissatisfaction which exists among both modern churchmen and humanists at present regulations governing religious education in schools, which often result in teachers being placed in the position of teaching what they do not themselves believe? Is he aware that in some schools it would be impossible to carry out the requirements of the system if all the teachers who desired to do so availed themselves of the conscience clause? Does not my right hon. Friend recognise that this can do considerable damage to religious education, if it is being taught by people who do not themselves accept what they are teaching?

Mr. Crosland

I thought that my hon. Friend was referring in his Question to the actual statutory provisions. If he is referring to the content of courses, I entirely agree with him that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction, and indeed a great ferment of argument, as to the content, both in the denominations themselves and in the teacher-training colleges and elsewhere. As far as I am aware, this discussion which is going on has not yet led to any consensus view as to particular changes which might be made. Until some consensus view has emerged out of the discussion which is now going on, I do not think that any action on my part would be called for.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Whilst recognising the difficulty of dealing with this matter in question and answer, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman if it is not a fact that very great efforts are being made by the denominations involved to work out a sensible and cohesive view on this matter? Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that no change will be made until he has had the fullest possible consultation with all concerned?

Mr. Crosland

I can certainly give that assurance.

Mr. Maxwell

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that teachers, pupils and parents are very disturbed that the teaching of religion in schools is not in conformity with what children need? I appreciate that this is a very ticklish matter, but will my right hon. Friend tell the House what he can do to induce the various denominations to give some practical effect to bringing in a new curriculum and a better way of teaching religion than is being done at present, which is much more for the form than what is actually needed?

Mr. Crosland

There is nothing that I can do or wish to do in this matter. The fact is, as my hon. Friend mentioned, that a great deal of thought is being given to the question of the curriculum. Almost everybody agrees that as now taught the subject is unsatisfactory in relation to the modes and ideas of today. A great deal of thought is already being given to this. Until this has emerged in some kind of consensus, I would not myself take any initiative in the matter.

Sir E. Boyle

Is it not a fact that a very wide range of opinion, both Christian and humanist, is concerned with the importance of religious instruction and the agreed syllabus justifying itself as a curriculum subject and also the agreed syllabus being suitable for older teen-agers? A great deal of thought is being devoted to this at the moment. Would the Secretary of State accept that we on this side fully agree that it would be wrong to take decisions on this subject until these thoughts have matured more than they have at present?

Mr. Crosland

Yes, Sir.