HL Deb 07 December 1999 vol 607 cc1146-8

2.45 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What provision is made in the revised national curriculum for the inclusion of the non-religious point of view.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone)

My Lords, the school curriculum requires schools to offer a broad and balanced curriculum which promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils. Opportunities exist within the curriculum for teaching about a breadth of religious and non-religious views. The Government have no plans to change the status of religious education or to remove the statutory framework for it.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, in the context of that Answer, can my noble friend confirm that only a small number of schools include in their curriculum the need to inform pupils that a substantial part of the population does not hold religious beliefs? As the religious education syllabus has broadened a good deal in recent years to include knowledge of all faiths, is it not logical and proper that it should include the non-religious point of view?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I cannot tell my noble friend how many schools provide information about the proportion of the population which does not follow any particular religious faith. However, we ought to remember that religious education is about teaching different aspects of different religious faiths to young people, including tolerance for all faiths and for those who hold no particular religious view. Within the school curriculum, there are many opportunities—whether in English, history or the new citizenship lessons which are to be introduced—to discuss such issues.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

My Lords, I recognise the way in which the teaching of religion has broadened to include faiths other than Christianity and I welcome that. However, is it not the case that non-religious people have a strong moral code? Will my noble friend go further than her previous answers and encourage local education authorities fully to include non-religious teaching in their syllabus and discussions, perhaps by circulating guidance about that?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, entirely accept the fact that many people who have no religious faith have strong moral convictions which all of us can and should respect. However, as regards religious instruction in schools, we expect teachers to cover a broad range of issues. It would be difficult to require them to teach about non-religious views in religious instruction. It is important to ensure that a broad range of views are covered and that understanding and tolerance are pert of what teachers are conveying.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I welcome the Minister's comment that religious education is about religion rather than non-religion. Her colleague in another place, Jacqui Smith, today issued a press release which states: Collective Worship also provides an opportunity for promoting pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural development". What does "promoting" mean in that context?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I have not seen that document which was apparently issued today. Indeed, this is the first that I have heard about it. I cannot really answer what was meant by the word "promoting" in that context as I have not seen the document.

Lord Janner of Braunstone

My Lords, will my noble friend please use this opportunity to congratulate those many teachers who, especially at this time of year, organise multi-faith celebrations so that children in their schools may understand, enjoy and appreciate not only their own religions, but also those of other people?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that intervention. We should all congratulate teachers who undertake what is often a difficult task in covering a wide range of religious views and beliefs in our multi-faith society. It is one of the strengths of our schools that they do that so effectively.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

My Lords, should not the Government give considerable encouragement to the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, in that the citizenship curriculum coming into force in autumn 2002 has as one of its basic foundations the whole question of values and is designed to help pupils to develop their own values and their own moral autonomy? Should that not go a long way towards giving solace to the questioner?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, yes. I greatly endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, has said. The citizenship curriculum will be able to cover a wide range of issues including questions of morality and democracy. It covers the kind of issues of which we want all young people to be aware, including their obligations to members of their own community and indeed to communities far beyond the one in which they live.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, is correct in saying that an awful lot of children do not know anything about religion, is that not a good reason for them being taught it? I presume that if they were not taught it, they would not know much about mathematics either.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I am not sure that my noble friend was saying that many young people do not know much about religion, although of course he may speak for himself. I believe that he was saying that many adults in this society do not follow any particular religious faith. The statistics show clearly that that is the case.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that the Question is about the non-religious point of view and that it is not answered by widening the range of religions covered? Will she agree that my noble friend is raising specifically the position of those who have no religion and will she address the issue from that point of view?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I thought that I had already made it clear that it is possible for those issues to be raised and discussed with pupils in our schools in many different aspects of the curriculum. It is particularly appropriate at the secondary stage and that is indeed what I believe happens.

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