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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Gove stands firm on religious education in baccalaureate

The Education Minister Michael Gove shrugged off criticism in the House of Commons this week that religious education was not to be one of the subjects to be studied as part of the new English Baccalaureate.

Caroline Nokes, Conservative MP for Romsey and Southampton North asked the Minister whether he planned to include religious education in the humanities section of the English baccalaureate.

Mr Gove responded: “Religious education did not count towards the humanities element of the English baccalaureate in the 2010 performance tables, because it is already a compulsory subject. One intention of the English baccalaureate is to encourage wider take-up of geography and history in addition to, rather than instead of, compulsory RE”.

Not to be put off, Caroline Nokes asked whether the Minister thought exclusion of RE from the baccalaureate would “dramatically reduce the number of students studying the RE full course at GCSE and have a knock-on and detrimental effect on the number of candidates for religious education teacher training?”

Michael Gove replied: “The decision to include geography and history in the humanities section of the English baccalaureate will mean that those subjects, which have seen a decline in the number of students pursuing them, will at last see an increase, alongside modern foreign languages. As the Minister of State, Department for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb) pointed out, the English baccalaureate is intended to be a suite of core academic qualifications, which every child can be expected to follow alongside other qualifications, whether vocational, RE or others.”

Another Christian MP, Paul Maynard (Conservative, Blackpool North and Cleveleys) also challenged the Secretary of State for Education, saying: “While I entirely accept the Secretary of State’s point that RE is compulsory, it is not obligatory to sit the GCSE. Does he agree that the very many faith schools where RE is compulsory are thereby penalised in the calculation of their English baccalaureate achievement?”

Michael Gove responded: “I do appreciate that many schools will want to offer RE as a GCSE, and indeed we would encourage them to do so, but the core element of the English baccalaureate relates to five subjects which we believe are the essential academic knowledge that students should be able to master. The news from the Russell group of universities last week that the subjects that we have chosen for the English baccalaureate are the subjects that they expect students to have if they are to go on to leading universities ensures that there is an appropriate match between schools and universities in advancing social mobility rather than seeing it decline, as happened in the past 13 years.”

Published Fri, 11 Feb 2011