Catholic schools to teach Judaism alongside Christianity for first time

For the first time, Catholic schools are to teach Judaism as well as Christianity in GCSE religious studies.

Judaism is regarded as the "mother" religion of Christianity and Jesus himself was Jewish.

Recently the law was changed so that even faith schools must teach two religions at GCSE. At present, Catholic schools teach one faith, Catholic Christianity.

There are 2245 Catholic schools in England and Wales, 1806 primary, 374 secondary, 50 all through and 15 tertiary, making up one in ten of all schools.

Altar boys at St Peter's Basilica on Rome this week before the arrival of Pope Francis for a Mass for cardinals and bishops who died in the past year.Gregorio Borgia/Reuters

Paul Barber, director of the Catholic Education Service, said: "RE (Religious Education) in Catholic schools goes far beyond comparing and contrasting different faiths. It is at the core of everything we do.

"We are fully supportive of the new, more academically rigorous RE GCSE. Teaching Judaism as the second religion will ensure that schools continue to comply with the Catholic Bishops' Conference Religious Education Curriculum Directory. This is so our pupils can gain a thorough understanding of the richness and breadth of 2000 years of Catholic theology and culture."

He indicated that pupils would also have opportunities to learn about other faiths such as Islam. Nearly one in three pupils at Catholic schools in England come from other faiths or no faith.

"However, just because our pupils are not being examined on faiths other than Christianity and Judaism, it doesn't mean they're not learning about them." An understanding of the world's major religions was central to the bishops' curriculum, he said.

"It is because our pupils have a thorough knowledge and understanding of the Catholic faith, they are able to be more accepting of others with different faiths. We are working with leaders in the Jewish community to ensure our RE teachers will be fully equipped to teach Judaism at a high academic standard and we welcome the support of government funding, to provide this essential professional development.