Liberal Democrat MP John Pugh attacked the “missionary zeal of obsessive secularists” for leading to a diminished emphasis on RE teaching.
The comments came in a debate in Westminster Hall which sought to pressure the Government into including RE in the new English baccalaureate.
The debate was packed with pious, even evangelical, MPs anxious to promote religion in schools, each making more inflated claims for the “essential” nature of RE than the last.
Education Secretary Michael Gove said that he would “take on board” the concerns of the religious establishment, which is panicking at the prospect of the gradual loss of interest in Religious Education. The reason RE has been left out of the English baccalaureate (E-Bac) is that the Government wants to encourage students to choose vocational subjects that will benefit them in later life rather than subjects such as media studies and religious education that have little practical value.
Winding up the debate, Education Minister Nick Gibb said that RE should be part of a “broad and balanced curriculum” and that he wanted to “get away from the mentality that a subject is only important if it is mentioned in the National Curriculum.”
Meanwhile, The Bishop of Birmingham kept up the pressure in the House of Lords. He asked education minister Lord Hill of Oareford: “Are you aware of the deep and widespread concern that, in narrowing the compulsory subjects in the E-Bac, there will likely be a reduction in religious studies and religious education learning — rigorous academic subject that it is — and a consequent reduction, which is already happening, in places for PGCE training of RE teachers?
“Underlying that, there is the likely erosion of religious literacy, particularly among more able and older teenagers, which is essential in our diverse society. Would you be prepared to consider adding religious education to the other excellent humanities subjects of geography, English and history?”
Lord Hill replied that he understood the views expressed by the churches and church schools. He added: “The choice of subjects currently in the E-Bac is not meant in any way to imply that subjects that are not in are less worthy or less academically rigorous.”
And he said the number of children taking RE GCSE had been increasing while those taking history and geography had been decreasing. “In seeking to redress that balance, I understand the strength of the feeling that there is in church schools, which do a wonderful job in educating our children,” he said. “It is always the case that the E-Bac is not fixed in stone, and these things need to be kept under review.”