Reception and subsequent repetition of Statement Three

An examination of contemporaneous materials suggests that, at the time of its publication, reception of WP36 was low-key. In a 1971 article in Learning for Living, the forthcoming release ofWP36 was announced, repeating for the reader the statement that the paper ‘is not a report but an interim statement for public discussion and it invites comments from all concerned with education, and particularly religious education, in schools’.120 Once the report was released, there appears to be very little discussion in the scholarly press, and what is published tends towards a critical view. For example, addressing the issue ‘What are we trying to do in the Secondary School?’, Paul King and Kenneth Hyde highlight that the working paper ‘does not

Unearthing religious pluralism in RE 91 make significant additions to the questions already familiar to many’.121 A brief survey of articles in Learning for Living after its publication in 1971 reveals that WP36 is mentioned infrequently and, even then, generally only in passing.122 Between 1971 and 1974, there are a number of articles that deal with the study of world religions, yet fail to refer to WP36.123 (From 1975 the focus of attention shifted to the Birmingham Agreed Syllabus.) Even where the document is cited, it often is marginalized by an emphasis on other (often earlier) sources, especially the fourth R and the Birmingham Agreed Syllabus of 1975.124 For example, in a discussion of recent trends in RE, one 1974 editorial includes reference to WP36, but only in the shadow of the fourth R.125

The reception more widely seems similarly low-key. In discussions of‘controversial’ and ‘notable’ publications by the Schools Council, WP36 is not mentioned, although others arc. Gordon notes that Working Paper 53—The Whole Curriculum included ‘no final recommendations, but many controversial ideas’.126 Likewise, Stewart discusses the influence of Working Paper 10—Teachers Centres and Alves, writing about the work of subject committees (by this point he was chair of the Religious Education Committee) draws examples from a wide variety of subjects, including Classics, Science, Geography, Music, and English.127 However, mention of'WP36, the RE subject committee, and its working parties is absent from each of these papers. Within the bounds of these discussions, had WP36 been considered as particularly noteworthy or significant it seems reasonable to expect that it would have been mentioned in some, even if not all, of this literature.

However, a few years after its publication, WP36 begins to be referenced as a convenient shorthand for the non-confessional study of non-Christian religions. In a 1974 article, an author refers to a book ‘which gives guidelines for teaching all immigrant religions and material for morning worship in assemblies’, stating that it ‘reflects the aims of the Schools Council project (Schools Council Working Paper 36)’.128

More recently, Philip Barnes, for example, has situated WP36 as an authoritative document, claiming that ‘for over a decade, [it] effectively set the boundaries within which debates on the nature and purpose of religious education in Britain were conducted and discussed’.129 Barnes claims that WP36 ‘is widely regarded as heralding the demise of Christian Confession-alism in state-maintained schools in England and Wales’, whilst simultaneously arguing that it ‘has enjoyed an influence far beyond the strength of its arguments and the persuasiveness of its conclusions’.130 Barnes appears to want his readers to accept his argument that WP36 is initiatory and is seen by others as authoritative in some way, although many of his claims are not substantiated nor are they adequately referenced.131

That said, WP36 has become imbued with a certain authority by being cited elsewhere. For example, the Swann report {Education For All, 1985), which documents the Government’s enquiry into the ‘Education of Children from Ethnic Minority Groups’, considers the issue of RE in some depth, repeating a number of statements from WP36, and concluding that

‘the insights and accumulated wisdom of the great world religions cannot be ignored in any comprehensive scheme of moral education’.132

Beyond the citation of the specific statement, the argument it makes is taken up into national policy documents, albeit in slightly different terms. HMI Memo 3/75 (issued by Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Schools in January 1975) is one of the first national documents to legitimize faith traditions other than Christianity in the sphere of Religious Education. It specifically widens the understanding of the term ‘Denomination’ to include ‘non-Christian faiths’; highlights the positive contribution that multi-cultural RE makes to inter-cultural understandings; specifically permits the ‘inclusion of non-Christian religions as objects of study in their own right’; and expands previous interpretations of legislation, thus opening up mechanisms by which non-Christian groups can be represented on Agreed Syllabus Committees.133 This demonstrates the extent to which national policy and practice of the Inspectorate in the mid-1970s changed in order to support the study of world religions in English RE.

Notably, all of the direct citations of statements made by the Religious Education in Secondary Schools Project are drawn from WP36, a discussion document published at the start of the project. The Teachers Handbooks, published at the close of the project to provide curriculum materials for teachers to adapt, repeat in some detail the statements made in WP36 yet do not appear to be cited at all.134 This suggests that it is not the statements themselves that carry the significance and authority; it is the rules by which the statements have been repeated that infuse the statements with these attributes. The rules under which the statements have been repeated differ between WP36 and the Teachers Handbooks-, consequently, the handbooks have not been constructed as either significant or as authoritative.135 Further, it is important to note an absence in the Teacher’s Handbooks of any discussion prompted by the publication of WP36; the reasons for this are unclear.

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