England’s young people challenge MPs

School students debated relevance of religious education in Westminster

80 students from across England travelled to Parliament on Monday 9 July for the second Youth Debate on the role of religious education in schools.

They were welcomed to Westminster by William Wragg MP, Liz Twist MP, and historian of religion and broadcaster, Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou.

In a wide-ranging discussion – covering topics as diverse as the role of religious literacy in combatting extremism, the need for RE in an increasingly secular society, and whether or not students learn more by studying their own religion and belief than they do by studying their own – United Nations debating rules were firmly applied in the chamber by the co-chairs, students from Mulberry School for Girls in Hackney, London. Both young women were clearly and expertly trained in handling opinionated peers…and politicians!

Many of the students managed to talk to their local MPs, who had been invited to attend the debate, and hear what their local students had to say on the importance and relevance of RE in a modern society.

Speaking after the event, Professor Francesca said, “The level of debate was extremely impressive - the pupils were bright, passionate and rigorous in their arguments. They demonstrated great skill in debating difficult topics with enormous sensitivity and generosity to those with whom they disagreed.

“It is clear to me that RE remains a vital and relevant element of a balanced curriculum. I hope that the Government takes steps to ensure it is protected, well-supported and properly resourced.”

The debate was staged by and the National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE) and Religious Education Council for England and Wales (REC).

NATRE Chair Ben Wood commented, “Healthy debate is a vital part of modern RE. The knowledge and skills that comes from studying RE mean students are well equipped to take part in vigorous and meaningful debate on a wide variety of issues. The Youth Debate provided an excellent opportunity for MPs to see RE in action and witness the enthusiasm and passion shown by the young people taking part.

“Our message to MPs and school heads is that RE should continue to play an important role in a balanced curriculum and that steps are needed to ensure it is maintained.”

REC Chief Executive Rudolf Eliott Lockhart commented, “The importance and role of RE and the way it looks in schools is a subject that raises real passions on all sides of the debate. But today these young people have shown that there is room for different points of view, and that in fact this variety enhances debate and improves learning for all.”

Photographs from the day can be found on NATRE's Facebook page.

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Editor’s notes:

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National Association of Teachers of RE

NATRE is the subject teacher association for RE professionals in primary and secondary schools and higher education, providing a representative voice at national level and publications and courses to promote professional development. NATRE’s Executive consists of a majority of serving teachers.

NATRE website

Religious Education Council of England and Wales

The Religious Education Council of England and Wales was established in 1973 to represent the collective interests of a wide variety of professional associations and faith communities in deepening and strengthening provision for religious education. It provides a multi-faith forum where national organisations with an interest in supporting and promoting religious education in schools and colleges can share matters of common concern. The REC's vision is that every young person experiences a personally inspiring and academically rigorous education in religious and non-religious worldviews. It seeks to work in a way that embodies values of cooperation, collaboration, openness, mutual respect and critical engagement.

REC website