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The Jonathan Dimbleby Big Debate - Religion in Schools

The Jonathan Dimbleby Big Debate - Religion in Schools Play now

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Jonathan Dimbleby and a panel of experts come together to debate the controversial subject of religion in Britain's schools.

The role of religion in education is a subject rarely out of the headlines. Despite Britain's multi-faith society, schools are still required to include a collective act of worship of a Christian nature, while faith schools and religious academies have raised fears about community cohesion and covert selection.

Claims by some religious educationalists that faith is the best way to teach moral values is challenged by others in schools who believe religious morality to be outdated and dangerous.

Dimbleby is joined by Professor Richard Dawkins, Schools Select Committee chairman Barry Sheerman MP, and a multi-faith studio audience.

Published: 11 December 2007

Your comments

Keep faith out of RE

I sit on the executives or am heavily involved with the National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE), The Association of RE inspectors, Advisers and Consultants (AREIAC), The Association of University Lecturers in RE (AULRE), the European Forum for Teachers of RE (EFTRE) and the Shap working party on Religions; so feel that I have something to add to this debate.

However this mail is in a personal capacity and not representative of any of these organisations. I am against faith schools. Schools should be representative of their local community. Selection, BY ANY MEANS, is wrong in the state system and selection by faith groups is just one of the forms of selection (many others also exist in the cacophony of types of school this government has promoted in the name of choice). It is not the place of schools to give young people faith this is the place of the faith community. It is also not the place of schools to offer worship or expect that all pupils will worship again this is the place of the faith community.

However, There is a real danger of confusing Religious Education and Religion in Education here and I would defend to the hilt the place of RE in schools for reasons that are too numerous to list here except to say that history, literature, geography, art and music all suffer with a lack of understanding of religion let alone an understanding of identity, citizenship, values and yes, morals.

I would be interested to know who was the education consultant as the 'reading list' is very sketchy. To have Dawkins without McGrath [The Dawkins' Delusion] shows some considerable bias. Dawkins grasp on theology and philosophy are very poor and should be treated in the same way that he dismisses theologians who attempt amateur evolutionary biology. The MacMullen is also an interesting choice as this deals with the debate on religious schools and their implementation in the USA, thought it draws on experience from the UK. There are more UK centric texts.

So, I await this programme with interest. However to ask people not to bring their religious faith into school is as to ask them not to bring their gender, race, ethnicity or language.

I should finish by saying that while I have been a teacher of RE (and also of Maths, Science, History and ICT) I do not profess a personal religious faith but would call myself, in this world of labels, a confused possible theist.

Paul Hopkins

The school as a faith community.

Dear Paul,
It is interesting to note from you article that "It is not the place of schools to give young people faith this is the place of the faith community. It is also not the place of schools to offer worship or expect that all pupils will worship again this is the place of the faith community."

I would imargine that it is difficult to separate a believer from his/her faith.If children come together in schools with their faith then they automatically form a faith community. This makes the school a faith community itself. I do consider worship as an intrinsic part of human nature. Thus if children in school (faith community) have an identified faith with forms of worship, they should be assisted in an educational set up (formally) to carry out their acts of worship. If we leave these to the 'faith community' (Church and home based) then we are neglecting part of our duty as educators. Schools (faith schools - Catholic for example) should grant a holistic experience of education to children: catering for their physical, spiritual, inellectual, psychological, emotional, etc, development. By the way isn't it a great thing to merge formal and informal curriculum in school?

Also, I am not sure if you meant what you said in one of your articles (Jan 19) "...BUT the issue with faith schools is that there is, by definition, less of a mix of students and thus less intellectual challenge." May be some more research and consultation of Ofsted reports would prove the contrary.

Mr Hopkins:plainly wrong

Dear Mr Hopkins,

I think you make a mistake by saying:"However to ask people not to bring their religious faith into school is as to ask them not to bring their gender, race, ethnicity or language."

I did not choose my native language. I did not choose my race (whatever it means for you, as it is not a scientific label).
I did not choose my ethicity.

BUT, I could choose my religion. I am not born with my original religion. It was imposed on me by my environment. Though education, I could depart from it and made other choices.

In the context of schools and educational matters, you should differenciate about what people could change through education and what they cannot.

That makes your comment quite irrelevant.


Jerome Berenz

Keep faith out of RE

Lighting the blue touch paper and standing well back!!

As an atheist and a parent I feel that my views, beliefs and concerns are often not considered in this debate, so I am very happy to see the involvement of Richard Dawkins.

Children are not born with a faith, faith is a socialisation process, I have to admit this gives me great inner turmoil when it comes to schools. I do not push my beliefs on anyone let alone my young children. Understanding yes, but children should not be so strongly steered in this matter in any direction.

No personal religious faith, confused possible theist, remind me what's an agnostic?

cowardly not using my full name but if anyone is persecuted it's the atheist

Keep Faith out of RE

I am so grateful to teachers.tv that I could listen to the Big Debate today on my TV and then download the programme on to my laptop, to listen again. I will listen yet again, as I think there is much food for thought. It is so good to hear comments from so many different people.

Raised in a C/E school where my GrandMother,Mother and sister attended,I considered it laterly had lost part of its cutting edge. Since that time having travelled to many overseas places and mixed with many nations,I consider we need this TV, IT, platform which has been raised where discussion onon so important a subject may take place .

In my growing years I sang from the depth of my being in Christian services.However it was only in my college years when my heart was broken from being unfairly penalised that I came to know personally the Christian God Jesus Christ.

After the programme is over ...

Thanks Earnest,

I've now watched the programme.

When I was a teacher of RE I would encourage the debate from all sides of the argument including the atheist (and as I pointed above labeling oneself as any 'ist' causes problems of understanding). The issue with Richard Dawkins is not that he is an atheist but that he is a fundamentalist and is non-rationalist about the beliefs of a majority of the world's population.

The Non-Statutory National Framework for RE which is the suggested model for all syallbi in RE was signed up to, among many other groups, by the British Humanist Association who would also wear the tag atheist.

Whilst we may not be born theists, nor are we atheists perhaps the best term is agnostic (from the Greek gnosis, knowledge so we are born not having knowledge) of course all other attitudes, creeds and beliefs (including scientism) are also constructs of our social environment.

The purpose of good Religious Education is to offer children a set of tools by which they can deconstruct the questions of religion, ethics and philosophy. These might lead to a religious belief and they might not - RE does not care about this.

I was personally pleased that the majority of the contributors to the programme thought that there was no place for faith schools and that the 'act of worship' was mostly meaningless, whilst a communal gathering rooted in a moral or ethical purpose could be a positive experience leading to a sense of community.

Like the Rabbi (and others) I am concerned that separatism does not allow students to be challenged, and to challenge, the world views of people that are different to them, in an environment which is secure and, to some degree, controlled (in terms of the nature and process of the debate not in terms of the content or questions that can be asked).

This is what I see in, good RE in many schools including some faith schools BUT the issue with faith schools is that there is, by definition, less of a mix of students and thus less intellectual challenge.

Paul Hopkins

Beliefs of a majority?

"The issue with Richard Dawkins is not that he is an atheist but that he is a fundamentalist and is non-rationalist about the beliefs of a majority of the world's population."

I take this to mean that a majority of the worlds population has a faith? No individual faith has a majority. Christianity can profess to about 33% of the world population with Islam hot on the heals.

As to Prof. dawkins fundamentalism and non-rationalism, in the context of religion I find both contentions to have a meaningless ring to them. Fundamentalist about what exactly? What strange definition of fundamentalist do you subscribe to? It is scaremongering talk, conjuring imaginary images of atheism waging an aggressive stance against the poor, unimpeachable religions. Bless them. As to 'non-rationalist'. Please. Tell me you're joking?

The Jonathan Dimbleby Big Debate - Religion in Schools

I think that the debate is an excellent introduction to a very important topic and a good range of views were selected.
I would agree that the majority of people in the UK, whilst maybe 'nominally Christian', do not actually have a personal faith in God. However, my own experience of Christian Faith Schools has been a positive one of strong community focus and not one of 'prosyletising' or 'indoctrination'.
I think that RE should be a part of the National Curriculum and that all students need to learn about all religions and belief systems - including humanitarianism and atheism.
I also think that 'ethics' should be taught as a subject complementing RE, Citizenship, PSHE and allowing cross-curricular links throughout the 'Humanities' and the whole curriculum, to encourage children to make wise and informed choices about their lifestyles and the impact that our decisions make on this entire planet.
As long as all schools are being inspected and measured using the same yard-stick and producing well-educated, caring and respectful citizens, parents and children should be able to choose from a range of schools, including those that transparently embrace a faith and can complement and augment what is taught in the home and communities in which they live.

Good News

Dear dhaynes,
I read your posting with keen interest and am able to give you this good news coming from my experience as a teacher of RE, Ethics and Philosophy in a secondary and sixth form school. The Good News is that many students are increasingly choosing to study Ethics and Philosophy in the sixh form. There is hope for our society whose morals seem to be purely subjective with little consideration to absolute and objective moral principles. And I would like to add that though there can be and there is morality without Religion, Religion is like (or should be) the engine, the custodian, the driving force and promoter of objective molity, therefore occupying an invaluable position in our education system.

R. Dawkins

I find the suggestion that Richard Dawkins is a 'fundamentalist' to be a little unfair. I don't think it's pedantic to insist that words are used with some relationship to their meanings. Dawkins does not wish to impose his views on anyone, neither does he wish anyone harm. So in what way can he be (accurately) described as a 'fundamentalist'?

Additionally I'm not sure what relevance Dawkins' allegedly poor grasp of theology has to this particular discussion, or if this is a fair characterisation. He seems pretty well versed in the classical arguments for the existence of God. Perhaps those who accuse Dawkins of not knowing enough about theology are being mendacious. I wonder if those people really mean that they just don't care for the conclusions he reaches. I might add that one does not need to be an expert in fairies in order to deny their existence, and anyone who insisted upon such expertise would rightly be considered foolish. This sounds suspiciously like an argument of convenience than of conviction. The accusation that Dawkins is non-rationalist about the world's religions also makes little sense to me. What is this supposed to mean? If it means anything at all it requires evidence and further clarification. Otherwise, to quote Dawkins, "what may be asserted without evidence may also be rejected without evidence".

quote unquote

"what may be asserted without evidence may also be rejected without evidence".

Originally a Hitchens quote I think but Dawkins, Hitchens,Dennet and Harris tend to have interchangeable soundbites.

The Big Debate - Faith Schools

I have just watched this video with my year 11 students in the Catholic comprehensive where I teach, not as part of an RE lesson, but as part of our English studies.

The students are keen to write a collective response which is as follows:

"As students in a Catholic school we look at secular schools in our town and we can see a significant difference in our moral values compared with those students who attend these schools.

"We were really interested in some of the points debated, especially Richard Dawkin's point about children not being born with faith."

These are just two views, the video has provoked really interesting debate amongst the students and we will be basing our next speaking and listening assignment on it.

Thank you.

I think debate of these

I think debate of these points is certainly important, however you appear to have looked at your own moral values as having a somewhat glowing quality. Smug superiority over the riff-raff around you somewhat provokes me to mention the fall from grace of some of your own clergy, the inquisition, catholic church during Nazi regime etc etc etc etc ad infinitum. I am sure that as young students you think you are indeed moral. I am sure you are probably wrong.

We believe all are entitled to freedom of thought opinion.

Dear dhillcrest
I am sorry if the students' views came across as having "smug superiority" to you, they certainly did not to me in the classroom listening to them. We did not use the term "riff raff" as you interestingly chose to do. The students were referring to different views to anti-social behaviour, vandalism, smoking, alcohol etc.. They were clear that they felt they were 'different' to others in their community. We debated whether this was due to school or home or church or a combination of all of these. They agreed, or a majority did, that it was a combination of all of these. They debated maturely and, as you say, debate of these points are certainly important. At school we also discuss the role of the Catholic church in past history and currently in the world (eg abuse by priests and nuns) and we make no attempt to excuse those responsible for the atrocities committed, some of which you mention and many you do not. I think the students feel that they are moral, they understand about their rights and responsibilities. They listen to debate with an open mind and they address any issues of prejudice /discrimination they witness. I was very proud of the discussion this debate engendered. I am also personally disappointed at your closing statement, but you are, of course, entitled to your opinion. Thank you from all of us for taking the time to respond to our posting. We enjoyed debating it, the content of which will make me smile for years to come! Thank you!

The Big Debate - Faith Schools

Take away faith schools, and faith schools will yet remain - worshippers of secularism will see to that. Since when have we lived in a vacuum?
There is a pressing and blindingly obvious need to make distinctions between faith schools, rather than abolish them, but Dimbleby did not trouble himself too much in that area. Too much of a 'hot potato'. What a pity! It would have made for a real debate.


The Jonathan Dimbleby Big Debate - Religion in Schools was very good, relevant

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