Ban parents from pulling children out of religious education classes, Church of England says

Camilla Turner
Parents are using a “dubious interpretation of human right legislation” to pull students out of the classes - Alamy

Parents should be banned from pulling their children out of religious education classes because they are preventing students from learning about Islam, the Church of England has warned. 

Derek Holloway, the Church's lead on religious education (RE) policy, said that those with "fundamentalist" religious beliefs are "exploiting" laws which give them the right to withdraw children from the lessons, in order to stop them from learning about the Muslim faith. 

He said that parents are using a “dubious interpretation of human right legislation” to pull students out of the classes, warning that such actions create a “dangerous” precedent. 

Mr Holloway, who taught at comprehensive schools in Essex and Wiltshire before taking up his current post in the C of E's education office, said that the right to withdraw children from RE lessons risks being hijacked by those who want to “incite religious hatred”.

Youngsters must learn about other religions and world views, Derek Holloway says  Credit: Chad Ehlers / Stock Connection / Rex Features

Youngsters must learn about other religions and world views so that they know how to get along with people from different backgrounds and beliefs, Mr Holloway said.

RE lessons, along with other school subjects, can help efforts to combat extremism and foster better community relations, he added. 

Writing in a blog on the Church of England's Facebook page, he said: "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”.

Mr Holloway said that the right to withdraw students from RE lessons “perpetuates the myth” that the classes are in some way linked to collective worship Credit: vicky kasala / Alamy Stock Photo

The Church believes the right for parents to withdraw children from RE should be repealed and a national statement of a child's entitlement to RE lessons should drawn up.

Mr Holloway said that the right to withdraw students from RE lessons “perpetuates the myth” that the classes are in some way linked to collective worship, when in fact they contribute to a “broad and balanced curriculum” by teaching children about a range of faiths and beliefs.

"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,” Mr Holloway told the Press Association.

"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."

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

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