The origin of Statement Five

The peculiar treatment of RE in relation to Statement Four in the legislation created circumstances in which it became possible for the nature and purpose of the type of RE specified to be clarified. In legal terms, Section 2(1) (Statement Four) is subject to Section 8 and 9 of the Act. Statement Five (included in ERA as Section 8(3)) is one aspect of this clarification; it specifies that any new agreed syllabus that comes into force ‘shall reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain arc in the main Christian whilst taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain’.69

As already set out, this prescription was absent from the Bill as first introduced—consistent with Baker’s intention to maintain the status quo of the 1944 settlement. Yet, for the first time, and in contrast to National Curriculum core and foundation subjects, the content of the subject was explicitly prescribed by statute. How did this peculiar situation become possible?

Exposing ideological commitments

During the debates—in both Houses—on the religious provisions of the Bill, discussion often departed quickly from the text under scrutiny, exposing deeply held ideological convictions (made plain through use of specific terms) about the nature and purpose of RE and a shared desire for Christianity to be dominant within religious teaching. For example, during the Report Stage debate in the Commons, one amendment was tabled that sought ‘to include scripture among the foundation subjects’; this discursive construction hints at a deeper conviction regarding the dominance of Christianity.70 Whilst the proponent elucidated the plural religious nature of the country, arguing that RE should be representative of the religious context in which it was taught, he asserted strongly that ‘Christianity should still be at the core of religious education’.71 This tension between plurality and the dominance of Christianity was also exemplified in concerns that the development of thenew legislation had ignored the Swann Report {Education For All, 1985) which ‘acknowledged the reality of Britain as a ‘plural society’ and the implications of that reality for schools and education’.72

The view that Christianity should be predominant appeared prevalent in both Houses; whilst it is hard to uncover significant evidence that underpins the explicit assertion, a common theme amongst those speaking in support was the notion that ‘This is a Christian country’. During this same period, certain groups within the Conservative Party were keen to ‘launch a campaign to link right-wing Tory ideology and Christian values’.73 Ten days before his concession on Section 2, Baker spoke at one of the key events in this group’s launch calendar: an invitation-only religious conference under the title Freedom and Responsibility: The Christian Perspective (organized by Brian Griffiths, head of Thatcher’s Policy unit) at St George’s House, Windsor.74 It also seems that Baker was under pressure from the Prime Minister to amend the Bill, not only to prescribe the content of RE, but to specify Christianity.75

The prescribing of the content of RE was supported in both Houses. In February 1988, whilst the Bill was under scrutiny in the Commons, Baroness Cox tabled a mischievously-timed question in the Lords.76 She asked, ‘What steps are [Her Majesty’s Government] taking to ensure that all state schools provide a Christian act of worship and Christian religious education for all children whose parent’s request them?’77 The question was predicated on the assertion that—contrary to Baker’s mantra that they had ‘stood the test of time’—the provisions of the 1944 Education Act with regard to RE were in fact not working, something that had been overlooked or ignored (or possibly even deliberately hidden) by the DES.78 In opening, Cox surveyed the ‘trends in religious education’, citing parental anxiety over schools that failed to adhere to the legislation in a sequence of specific cities and giving examples of the ‘ways in which the provisions of the 1944 Act arc being violated’.79 The concerns were very specific, focusing mainly on the notion that Christian teaching was being ‘diluted’ in a ‘multi-faith mish-mash’ and that the emphasis in RE had shifted too far towards secularization by ‘concentration on social and political issues’.80 She attributed the situation to the Shap working party on World Religions and the ‘multi-faith syllabuses in which Christianity is treated as just one among many faiths and perhaps not even the predominant subject for study’, expressing significant concern that ‘Parents in York report that a class used all its RE lessons for a whole term to learn about witchcraft, including the use of videos of witches’ covens’.81

Speaking in support of Cox, Baroness Blatch specifically criticized the work of Ian Ramsey (earlier Bishop of Durham, leader of the Durham Commission on RE and editor of the fourth R discussed in Chapters 3 and 4) for advocating a ‘flexible approach to the 1944 Education Act ... where world religions, humanism, even communism, and various nonreligious stances were seen to be treated as alternatives and equal to Christianity’.82 Blatch also criticized the World Council of Churches, the work of Ronald Goldman,

The changing peculiarity 111 and the 1975 Birmingham Agreed Syllabus. Further, she appealed to public opinion, as expressed through a (then) recent Panorama TV broadcast which—she claimed—reported that currently eight out of ten parents favour the presentation of religious education in schools’.83

This final claim must be considered carefully; it is likely that a significant amount of religious education in schools by this time fell within the sort of multi-faith paradigm that Blatch and others were criticizing. The fact that 80% of parents favoured religious education in schools could be interpreted to mean that they favoured the multi-faith approach. The lack of specificity in the question is a significant issue here; had it asked whether parents were in favour of a Christian religious education, the claims would be much less open to interpretation.

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