One in four British teachers (28%) say more Bible and other sacred texts in the curriculum would improve community cohesion, rising to 1 in 3 for primary schools.
The findings, which are part of a nationwide YouGov study for Bible Society, come as the government consults on new criteria for the teaching of religious studies in schools.
The study also showed that two in five teachers (42%) think it would improve the cross-cultural understanding of their students with minority groups, while 3 in 4 teachers (73%) think the education system has more of a role to play in addressing the challenges of inter-religious and ethnic strife at home and abroad through changing attitudes and behaviour of the next generation.
But the study also revealed that less than half of teachers (47%) are confident about including religious or sacred texts in their teaching plans, including 1 in 10 RE teachers (11%) surveyed. It also found nearly 1 in 10 children say those who are religious, or from different a religion to themselves, are “dangerous”.
Bible Society and Christians in Parliament held a debate in the House of Commons this week to discuss the findings drawing together policymakers, opinion formers and educators across the faith spectrum. There was broad consensus among the Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Humanist members of the panel4 on the positive impact religious education could have on community cohesion and how its teaching could be improved.
James Catford, Group Chief Executive of Bible Society, says: 'Understanding religion is essential to understanding and engaging in the modern world. It’s not surprising that teachers, in our research, support giving space to sacred texts in the classroom.
'Engaging with the Bible is essential to a good education. The Bible has not only shaped our politics, art, literature and music, it also helps change the lives of individuals and societies. We believe that every child has the right to encounter the Bible.
'We must work together to break down the barriers that prevent us from passing on the Bible in our schools for the benefit of future generations.'
Hear more from the discussion entitled Sacred Texts: Optional Extra or Fundamental Necessity held this week in The House of Commons by Bible Society and Christians in Parliament.
One in four British teachers (28%) think teaching religious and sacred texts (RST) in more of the school curriculum would improve community cohesion, rising to one in three (32%) for primary school teachers. A third (31%) of teachers think it would improve student’s general social development.
While 2 in 3 (64%) students think it important to know about different religions, a number of them have a negative view of those who are religious, or from a different religion to them. 7% of students would class them as “dangerous”, rising to 1 in 10 (9%) for children who say they are not religious, 13% would class them as “old fashioned”. and more than 1 in 10 (11%) would class them as “weird”.
Teachers say there is a role for the school classroom in addressing these negative opinions. The poll found 3 in 4 (73%) teachers think the school classroom has more of a role to play in addressing the challenges presented by inter-religious and ethnic strife at home and abroad through changing attitudes and behaviour of the next generation of British society. 2 in 5 (42%) think teaching religious and sacred texts in more of the school curriculum would improve cross-cultural understanding of their students with minority groups.
Teaching religious and sacred texts beyond RE classes. Around half of teachers (48%) think there is a place for the Bible and other sacred texts in personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) and Citizenship (46%). More than a quarter (27%) think it is fitted to History classes and 1 in 10 (11%) think the same for English. Just 4% of teachers in the study, which encompassed schools across the spectrum, thought there was no role for such teachings in the school environment.
Despite the perceived benefits, students are not getting diverse exposure to religious texts. The poll found that over a fifth (21%) of students said they hadn’t been exposed to any of the religious texts listed3. Only 4% of students who had been taught about the Bible had done so in an English class, with the same figure for in a History class. This falls to 3% and 4% respectively for The Torah, and 2% and 1% for The Koran amongst those who had been exposed to each text.
A lack of confidence is just one of the barriers holding teachers back. Less than half (47%) of teachers say they are confident about incorporating religious or sacred texts in their teaching plans. A quarter (27%) say they are not very or not at all confident, including 1 in 10 (10%) of RE teachers. A further quarter (24%) of RE teachers say they are neither confident nor unconfident.
The proportion of teachers that aren’t confident rises significantly among secondary school educators to 43%, compared to only 1 in 7 (13%) primary school teachers.
1 in 5 (21%) teachers are reluctant to teach more RST in case it’s taught inadequately or incorrectly, or creates the perception that one religion is favoured over another.
1 in 5 (18%) say they don’t have enough training, information and/or know-how to incorporate RST into their classes or lesson plans, rising to 1 in 4 (23%) for secondary school teachers and academy school educators (27%).
1 in 7 (15%) think there is a lack of clarity from policymakers about how religion should be taught or included in the school curriculum.
1 in 7 (15%) think the curriculum is not flexible enough to teach beyond what is needed for exams, rising to 1 in 3 (30%) for secondary school teachers.
1 All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 795 teachers. Fieldwork was undertaken between 24/10/14 and 04/11/14. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all schools in England and Wales.
2 All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 566 children aged 8 to 15. Fieldwork was undertaken between 24th -27th October 2014. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB children (aged 8 to 15).
3 The Bible (Christianity), The Koran (Islam), The Torah (Judaism), The Mahabharata (Hinduism), Guru Granth Sahib (Sikhism), Book of Mormon (Mormanism)
Bible Society panel discussion
4 Panel members Dr Farid Panjwani (Centre for Research and Evaluation in Muslim Education), Adrian Hilton (University of Oxford Department of Education), Richy Thompson (British Humanist Association), Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence (Senior Rabbi, Kinloss) and Nigel Steele (Christian Education Europe – ACE schools). The Chair of the debate was Fiona Bruce MP.