Parents with extremist views 'exploiting right to withdraw pupils from RE'

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Parents' rights to withdraw their children from RE lessons are being exploited by some who do not want their children to learn about other faiths, particularly Islam, a senior Church of England official has warned.

Such a move denies youngsters the chance to learn how to live and get along with others with different backgrounds and beliefs, according to Derek Holloway, the Church's lead on religious education.

He said he is aware of mothers and fathers with extremist views or religious beliefs who are taking their children out of RE lessons.

Rules allowing parents to withdraw pupils from these classes need to be scrapped, Mr Holloway said. 

In a blog, he said that while RE, along with every other subject, can help to combat extremism and encourage community relations, "these are not its core purpose nor its main aims".

"To enable all to 'live well together' there is a need for all pupils from all backgrounds to receive a broad and balanced curriculum that includes high-quality RE.

"Sadly, and dangerously, the right of withdrawal from RE is now being exploited by a range of 'interest groups' often using a dubious interpretation of human rights legislation. The right of withdrawal form RE now gives comfort to those who are breaking the law and seeking to incite religious hatred.

"To the detriment of the subject the right of withdrawal also perpetuates the myth that RE is confessional in all schools and aligns RE too closely with collective worship in the minds of the media and the public."

The Church believes the right for parents to withdraw children from RE should be repealed, with a national statement of a child's entitlement to RE lessons being drawn up, Mr Holloway said.

He told the Press Association: "Through RE teacher social media forums and feedback from our RE advisers, I am aware that some parents have sought to exploit the right to withdraw children from RE lessons.

"This is seemingly because they do not want their children exposed to other faiths and world views, in particular Islam.

"We are concerned that this is denying those pupils the opportunity to develop the skills they need to 'live well together' as adults."

This also puts schools in an "impossible position" as they have to show Ofsted inspectors they are preparing pupils for life in modern Britain, Mr Holloway warned.

"Anecdotally, there have also been some cases in different parts of the country of parents with fundamentalist religious beliefs also taking a similar course," he said.

"This is not confined to any one particular religion or area of the country.

"The Church of England is far from alone in this view and we support the broad consensus across the sector - both from teachers and RE advisers - that the right of withdrawal from RE is being exploited by a minority and should now be reviewed."

He added that the Church does not want to see parents' rights to withdraw pupils from assemblies reviewed or scrapped.