I hear many colleagues extol the virtues of Religious Education in schools as an essential tool in buidling a multi-belief, tolerant society. I fear their understanding of the function of RE differs greatly to the churches themselves and those people who get to set the curriculum. Their primary purpose is to ensure that children "get god". Philip Beadle explains some of the dodgy agendas written into RE lessons:
"The framework (for RE) is about as sane as these things can be, given that it has to accommodate viewpoints as diverse as the Russian Orthodox church and the British Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists - pretty well all perspectives on religious education in fact (aside, of course, from those of the National Secular Society). It is when we delve into the realms of suggested practice that it all gets a bit Old Testament.
The Standards Site for teachers features schemes of work for key stage 3 that could have been written by Billy Graham. Creationism on the curriculum is not happening only in the American Bible belt or outposts on Teesside: the government recommends it as a topic for study in every school. The suggested learning outcomes say that all year 9 pupils should be able to "explain the nature and meanings of the Genesis creation story for theists, creationists and others". The intent is that children "understand that science leaves questions of ultimate meaning and purpose unanswered".
There is a logical pedagogic link here that, though it may have been intended to promote a mature, dialectical approach, actually gives permission and approval to those who want to teach creationism as fact. First, you teach the theory, then question science's ability to answer questions about our genesis.
The aim of this scheme of work is that children "understand that historians of science now view the conflict account as misleading". Let me unpack this disgracefully disingenuous phrase for you: the government's desired final outcome of religious studies teaching in British schools is that children realise there is no conflict between religious belief and the evidence of science. This is a lie, the extent of which hits the three criteria for a mortal sin: it is grave, committed in full knowledge of the sin and deliberate.
It goes further. I had always suspected that the mark schemes rewarded blind obedience to a theistic point of view: "List 10 reasons why God exists" (10 marks), "Come up with a shaky reason He might not" (1 mark). These suspicions are confirmed with a look at the Standards Site's exemplar materials. The first scheme of work suggested for pupils on entry to secondary school is full of arguments for the existence of a deity. There ain't much there for secularists to sing about."