A leading Reform rabbi has attacked Education Secretary Michael Gove for not recognising the value of religious education.
Rabbi Jonathan Romain said the study of RE had been consistently undermined by Mr Gove, who had failed to promote it as a core subject.
“It’s not just that RE has been ignored and left on the shelf, but it has actually been devalued,” Rabbi Romain said.
“It’s important for British children to know about all the major faiths so that we have a country that understands not only what is going on in the rest of the world, but also what is going on with the child living next door.
“I know that Michael Gove is keen on slimming down the national curriculum but if you slim it down too far you’re in danger of academic anorexia. RE should be made a formal part of the national curriculum.”
Rabbi Romain was speaking after the release of a report on Monday by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Religious Education, which highlighted the potential for religious education to contribute to stronger community relations and recommended ways the subject might be strengthened.
The rabbi, who chairs the Accord Coalition — a group of organisations which lobbies for inclusive education — said disregard for religious education could damage cohesion within society and lead to antagonism, prejudice and extremism.
He said: “Britain is a multi-faith society, which is great. But we have to work hard to ensure it doesn’t become a multi-factious society. Appreciating people’s diverse religious histories is the best way to avoid a society being at war with itself.”
Currently, religious education is a statutory subject — schools must teach it — but it is not a part of the national curriculum. This means that each institution can dictate exactly how much, or how little, it teaches its pupils about different faiths.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Religious education is a vital part of teaching young people to respect the religious and cultural differences of others — that’s why it remains a compulsory subject for children at primary and secondary schools.”