HC Deb 20 December 1983 vol 51 cc257-8
3. Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will monitor the way in which local education authorities provide religious education and daily corporate acts of worship in schools.

Mr. Dunn

Responsibility for ensuring that the statutory requirements are met rests in the first instance with local education authorities and the governing bodies of schools. Information about current practice in schools is available to my right hon. Friend from Her Majesty's inspectors.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Manchester local authority has challenged religious education on the ground that to include Christianity might be offensive to non-Christian minorities. Will my hon. Friend confirm that there is a legal commitment to provide religious education and the opportunity for a daily act of worship in all state schools, and does he agree that those who wish to be exempted should be, but that the basis of our religious education should remain Christian?

Mr. Dunn

I am happy to confirm that the legal requirements of the Education Act 1944 are as my hon. Friend has said. There are detailed requirements on the local education authority with regard to worship and religious education. No changes in religious instruction can take place without convening a conference of Churches and other interests, as laid down in the 1944 Act. My hon. Friend is correct in his understanding of the legal position.

Mr. Jim Callaghan

How, in the monitoring of religious education in schools, has the Minister changed the balance of the historic share of places for religious education in colleges of education, in the light of the proposed closure of the De La Salle teacher training college in my constituency?

Mr. Dunn

The hon. Gentleman's question does not lie within my responsibility. The responsibility for religious worship and instruction in schools lies with the local education authority. Her Majesty's inspectorate has certain responsibilities in that regard.

Mr. Sims

While the legal requirements are as my hon. Friend has explained, is not the truth of the matter simply that there are not enough teachers qualified to teach religious education? What is my hon. Friend doing to improve the supply of such teachers?

Mr. Dunn

I am concerned that there should be an adequate supply of teachers of religous education within the total number being trained. In the restructuring of initial training last year we gave guidance on the balance of places for secondary training between subjects, which involved an increase in the proportion of places devoted to religious education. This will go some way to meet my hon. Friend's fear.

Mr. Skinner

Will the Minister confirm that there is a greater adherence to religious education of one kind or another in Northern Ireland than in Great Britain?

Mr. Dunn

I should ask the hon. Gentleman for his views on Marxism rather than on Christianity.