Parents should not be allowed to withdraw their children from religious education lessons, according to a senior policy adviser for school leaders' union NAHT.
In an article for education website Schools Week published today, Sarah Hannafin – herself a former RE teacher – says: 'High quality Religious Education should be a fundamental part of every school's offer. Through engaging with different beliefs and a diversity of views, pupils can develop an understanding of, and respect for others. This is vital for their life in modern Britain. Indeed, it is a government requirement of schools to promote British values, including respect and tolerance.'
Some parents, she says, objected to RE because they wrongly believed it was about 'trying to make all students Christian'. Others, she says, 'felt their child would be better off spending the time doing more English and Maths to improve their grades'.
She says school leaders received requests from parents wanting to withdraw their children from learning about specific religions or visiting particular places of worship. Others fear the content of lessons could conflict with their own beliefs.
'Those conversations, which need to tackle stereotypes and misperceptions, are challenging to resolve,' she says. 'But the fact that the right to withdraw seems to be increasingly used in this way, surely means that RE is more important than ever.'
A motion calling for the removal parents' right to withdraw children from RE lessons was passed by school leaders at NAHT's annual conference in 2016 and is NAHT policy.