HC Deb 22 February 1983 vol 37 cc789-90
7. Mr. Greenway

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he is satisfied with the operation of the religious education provisions of the Education Act 1944; and if he will make a statement.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Dr. Rhodes Boyson)

I have no doubt that we could—and should—provide better religious education for our young people. We have made it clear that we look to local education authorities, governing bodies and schools to live up to their statutory responsibilities.

Mr. Greenway

Although one does not not wish to see rigidity in this area, does my hon. Friend accept the importance of RE teaching? Is he aware that 80 per cent. of parents, whether or not they are churchgoers themselves, want RE teaching for their children, but that in 80 per cent. of schools there is known to be no regular act of worship, as by law there should be, or proper RE teaching? As the law requires that there should be proper RE teaching in all schools, why are we not getting it?

Dr. Boyson

The Government have made clear time and again their belief in the enforcement of the provisions of the 1944 Act about the act of worship once a day and religious education in schools. If this is not taking place, we can deal with the matter only if it is brought to our attention. There have been only four complaints in the past 14 months, all of which we have dealt with.

Mr. Ashton

If there is to be more religious education in schools, what kind of computer will the Minister recommend to show how Tory millionaires in the Cabinet can shove camels through the eye of a needle and get to the kingdom of heaven?

Dr. Boyson

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is moving into the electronic age, but I am not sure that he can drag his camel with him.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Is my hon. Friend aware that statistics from his Department show that only 58 per cent. of schools provide religious education for all fourth-year pupils, and 18 per cent. provide it for none at all? Is it not a scandal that this Government, of all Governments, should preside over what is becoming a collapse of moral and religious education in schools? When will we train more religious education teachers and get them into post?

Dr. Boyson

The figures to which my right hon. Friend referred were based on the 1978 secondary schools survey. The enforcement of the 1944 Act depends upon local education authorities, governors and heads of schools. It also depends on the influence of the churches in certain areas. Last year we increased the percentage of teachers training for religious education, and last October there were about 50 newly trained RE teachers without posts. That shows that there are sufficient RE teachers to fill any vacancies.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

Is not the Minister's answer incompatible with his Department's decision to cut back teacher training colleges with a religious base more severely than the usual teacher training colleges, and especially the De La Salle college, which is one of the few Roman Catholic colleges in the north-west?

Dr. Boyson

I cannot refer to the De La Salle college, because the matter is sub judice. However, the number of teachers training in secondary school teaching for 1983 will be higher than it has been for many years.