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BY NICOLETTE SHEEHAN


RELIGION IN SCHOOLS


Christmas will probably be taking over your life this term. Yet in the interests of making society more inclusive, shouldn’t teachers – and PTAs – be embracing a multi-faith approach to learning and celebrations?


YOU GOTTA HAVE FAITH


to shy away from saying what they think. Primary school teacher, Caitlin Prentice,


I


knows this very well. She recently overheard two Christian pupils casually telling one of their Muslim friends that he was going to Hell. The Muslim boy thought about this for a moment, then replied that actually, it was them who would go to Hell. He knew that because his Saturday school teacher had told him so. The Christian boys assured him that, according to their Sunday school teacher, it’s Muslims who go to Hell. ‘This went on for another few minutes,’ says Caitlin. ‘God, Allah, God, Allah, before I joined in, saying God and Allah are actually the same – or like friends. They don’t want anyone to go to Hell. All three boys looked at me like I was nuts, then went back to their argument.’ Caitlin says that conversations of


this type and nature are not unusual in schools. Despite the official edicts on


t’s well understood by most adults that among the topics of discussion to avoid, religion is right up there. But children, being children, are unlikely


learning about and celebrating religious differences, a squeezed timetable and fear of conflict leave some teachers, including Caitlin, wanting to hand out a Diwali colouring sheet, rather than tackling the tricky issues that religion throws up – even in KS1.


‘After some of the arguments, I tried to


mediate between the children. But I could definitely see advantages to just ignoring the problem,’ says Caitlin. ‘On the other hand, avoiding difficult issues doesn’t solve them. What does it say about the future of human relations if we can’t teach six-year-olds tolerance?’ Many people, whether they are


AVOIDING DIFFICULT ISSUES DOESN’T


SOLVE THEM. WHAT DOES IT SAY ABOUT THE FUTURE OF


HUMAN RELATIONS IF WE CAN’T TEACH SIX-YEAR-OLDS TOLERANCE?


religious or not, believe that’s why we need RE in our schools. Rosemary Rivett, Director of Education


at the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education, says, ‘RE is so important because it deals with being human. It allows us to talk about the big questions such as ‘what happens when I die?’. It helps children to understand the society they live in.’ And this means all of our society. ‘We look at the six major religions, and pupils say that learning about other people’s beliefs helps them to think about their own views and beliefs – in an environment where no one is going to criticise them for what they think.’


pta.co.uk WINTER 2013 29


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