Christianity in schools: whose history?
Tuesday, 5 Nov 2013
First posted on Tuesday, 18 December 2012 at 20:11
The teaching of Christianity can be "incoherent" or "too stereotypical", an academic leading a project to improve lessons in English schools has said.
Lessons can lack "intellectual development", said Dr Nigel Fancourt of Oxford University.
His comments follow a poll finding widespread support in England for teaching about Christianity in schools.
Almost two-thirds (64%) of adults questioned for Oxford University agreed pupils must know about Christianity to understand English history.
Some57% of 1,832 adults polled agreed that learning about Christianity was essential for children to understand English culture and way of life and44% said more attention should be given to its teaching.
More than half (58%) said it was important for children to know about the history of Christianity, major Christian festivals (56%) and how it distinguishes right from wrong (51%).
The poll is part of a project to help schools teach the faith in a more rigorous way. Researchers from Oxford's department of education say their focus on Christianity stems from a legal requirement that English schools should reflect the fact that Christianity is the country's main religious tradition.
This means that Christianity "will probably be the only religion that pupils study throughout their schooling. It is treated in the same way as other religions but studied more frequently", said Dr Fancourt.
But the emphasis on Christianity in religious education (RE) lessons does not mean that teaching is always "challenging and vibrant" say the researchers.
Dr Fancourt said that some teaching was overly focused on faith or moral development.
For example he said a lesson on the Bible story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 could become "an exhortation to share your picnic rather than a discussion of whether miracles really happen or what significance they have for Christians today: for example those who say they have been miraculously healed or pray for healing".
The opposite side of the coin is teachers who are nervous about tackling Christianity as a subject in case it is considered evangelising, say the researchers.
The team are working on a free web-based introduction to teaching Christianity which is aimed at trainee primary teachers. It should be available by September 2013.
We will follow the project’s development and keep you informed. We agree that a knowledge of Christianity in Britain is key to an appreciation of history. The question is - whose history? The old ‘Whig’ chronology won’t do. History from Catholic recusant and non-conformist standpoints must be offered, as well as the Church of England’s story, otherwise the historical picture will be distorted.
Report: John Dunn.