Religion news 18 April 2024

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Religious Education “continuing to wilt” with no coherent national plan

An Ofsted report on Religious Education has criticised the structure underpinning its delivery, with no coherent national plan and multiple local curriculums. The report, “Deep and meaningful? The religious education subject report”, says the lack of coherence “negatively affects leaders and teachers” who are trying to improve, and is one cause of a situation where “in many ways, the subject continues to wilt”. It recommends that the government should provide better guidance about what should be taught and when, concluding that the RE curriculum in most schools is superficially broad and lacks depth. Ofsted found that a significant proportion of schools do not meet the statutory requirement to teach RE at all stages. Among its recommendations, it urges schools to develop a strong RE curriculum, as required by law, and make sure that all teachers have the subject knowledge they need.  It says that leaders who want to improve the quality of RE have been poorly served with little progress made on recommendations from the last report ten years ago. Deborah Weston, chair of the Religious Education Policy Unit, welcomed its recognition of the need for high-quality RE and for the subject’s potential to help young people make sense of belief in modern Britain. She pointed to resources from many national RE organisations to help promote good practice.

Michaela School prayer ban judgment still causing waves

A court decision to back the prayer ban at the Michaela school in north London continues to be widely reported. The Times reports that the head, Katharine Birbalsingh, told the court that she had spoken to the imam at the London Central Mosque and Islamic Cultural Centre about the ban and an imam “agreed with this view and offered to speak to any Muslim parents who had doubts on this point”. The Times says the mosque and cultural centre did not comment on the claims.  The Telegraph quotes Ms Birbalsingh questioning legal aid given to the family in the case:  “Can it be right for a family to receive £150,000 of taxpayer-funded legal aid to bring a case like this?” The report says a spokesman for lawyers supporting the pupil said the legal aid costs were “a fraction” of the sum quoted by Ms Birbalsingh. The Guardian quotes the Muslim Council of Britain calling on the school to reconsider the policy, warning that it “sets a dangerous precedent for religious freedom in this country as it does for the future of inclusivity in our educational institutions”. The Church of England’s chief education officer, Nigel Genders, said: “We do not believe this judgment challenges the principle of freedom of religion or belief, or indeed collective worship in schools, which we strongly support”. Columnist Finn McRedmond, writing in the New Statesman, says Ms Birbalsingh’s vision for a functional multicultural community is not the absence of all faith, but the search for a uniting value.

Bishops continue to back Lords resistance to the Rwanda Bill

The Rwanda Bill, enabling migrants in Britain without a visa to be sent to Rwanda to pursue their asylum claims from there, is still not resolved, stuck in a “ping pong” repeated process of the Lords coming up with amendments, and the Commons voting them down. The bill has been opposed throughout by Church of England bishops. Yesterday, the Commons rejected all four Lords amendments, and the Bill went back to the Lords where they put forward two of the four amendments again. These say Rwanda cannot be declared a safe state without independent verification, and Afghan translators who worked for the military should be exempt. The Bishops of Oxford and Worcester voted for the amendments. The bill has to return to the Commons, but it cannot do so until next week, delaying the bill further.

Legacy of Covid 19 among cremation staff, the unsung key workers of the pandemic

A report on the impact of Covid on cremation practice in Britain, has found that changes to cope with the crisis have continued since lockdowns ended. The key change is the  high rate of “direct cremations”, where the body is taken away for cremation while the bereaved plan a memorial at a later date. A Religion Media Centre briefing heard that direct cremations rose from 5 to 15 per cent of the total and has remained at this higher level since. But there is concern that this is heavily marketed on TV by brokers, and people nearing death feel pressurised to opt in to save the family from expense and turmoil. Jane Woodward, from the At A Loss charity, said it’s feared that the absence of a ritual farewell leads to a failure to grieve properly, storing up mental health issues. The briefing also heard that cremation and crematorium staff felt they were taken for granted or ignored during the pandemic, not regarded as key workers as their workload increased by 23 per cent. They adapted through team work and collaboration, which has continued. Other changes that have endured are live transmissions of funeral services via zoom and invitation only funerals. The report: “British Crematorium Managers and Covid19”, by Rev Prof Douglas Davies and Georgina Robinson is here. View the briefing via links here.

Families of kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls commemorate 10th anniversary of their capture

The Nigerian Army is reported to have rescued one of the 276 Chibok schoolgirls, mainly Christian, abducted from their school by Islamist Boko Haram fighters ten years ago this week. The report is from Zagazola Makama, a counter-insurgency publication in the Lake Chad region, republished  by The Cable in Nigeria. It said the girl, Lydia Simon, was rescued with her three children yesterday, after escaping from a mountain location.  Many of the girls taken have been rescued, or escaped, but 90 remain captive, some have been married to their captors. Families of the girls held a Christian service to commemorate the tenth anniversary of their capture.  

Empty Passover Seder table displayed to remember Israeli hostages

A symbolic Passover seder table was laid out on a road near Downing Street yesterday, with 130 empty seats including two high chairs, commemorating the Israeli hostages seized by Hamas on 7 October, who remain in captivity. The event was organised by the UK Hostages Families Forum to draw attention to their plight. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said hearts are broken as the people are remembered. A nephew of hostage Michel Nisenbaum, who is a grandfather, told the Jewish News; “They can’t go on for much longer. They will not survive”. The empty Seder table will be on display at the JW3 centre in north London. Passover is from 22-30 April.


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