“God in the Classroom” was the title of a conference called by the Cross Party Group on Faith on 10th February 2016. The conference was held towards the end of the Fourth Assembly but there was certainly a reason for this meeting and I believe that there was a reason for this specific title.
The minutes of the meeting are unhelpful about what was discussed. Item 4 reads as follows:-
4. Darren chaired a time of discussion in which a broad range of issues relating to Religious Education were raised from attendees and answered by the Welsh Government representatives.
The list of those attending is interesting.
1. Carys Moseley, Swyddog Cyswllt Eglwys a Chymdeithas, Eglwys Bresbyteraidd Cymru
2. Chris Abbas, Baha’i representative on Interfaith Council of Wales
3. Claire Rowlands, , Deputy Director Curriculum Division, Welsh Government
4. Darren Millar AM (chair)
5. Elfed Godding, National Director, Evangelical Alliance Wales
6. Fr. Bernard Sixtus, Director of RE (Schools), Catholic Archdiocese of Cardiff
7. Gethin Rhys, Swyddog Polisi, Cytun
8. Glyn Tudwal Jones, Minister, Eglwys Bresbyteraidd Cymru
9. Huda Pearn, Leader, Ihsan Academy School
10. Huw Stephens, Baptist minister, Baptist Union of Wales
11. Ian Govier, Regional Leader, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
12. Jim Stewart, Public Affairs and Advocacy Officer, Evangelical Alliance Wales (secretary)
13. John Pugsley, Head of Curriculum Support Branch, Welsh Government
14. Julie Jones, Public Affairs Officer, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
15. Manon Jones, Head of Areas of Learning & Experience, Design & Development – Humanities,
Languages, Literacy & Communication, Welsh Government
16. Matt Lewis, Schools Development Worker, Scripture Union
17. Matt Parsons, leader of Connections Church
18. Naeela Minhas, Deputy Headteacher, Cardiff Muslim Primary School
19. Patricia AlBayari, School secretary, Ihsan Academy School
20. Paul Francis, leader of Glenwood Church
21. Paul Morgan, Vice President, Religious Education Movement (Wales)
22. Paul Soltis, Research Assistant for David Melding AM
23. Peter Noble, Chaplain in Cardiff Bay
24. Philip Lord, Chair of WASACRE and Challenge Adviser
25. Philip Manghan, Adviser for Wales, Catholic Education Service
26. Rachel Nelmes, Children, Youth and Families Adviser, Diocese of Monmouth, Church in Wales
27. Russell George AM
28. Samsunear Ali, Trustee, Cardiff Muslim Primary School
29. Simon Cameron, Schools Officer, Diocese of St. Asaph, Church in Wales
30. Simon Plant, Associate, Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service
31. Stanley Soffa, Chair of South Wales Jewish Representative Council
32. Steven Harris, National Training Director, OAC Ministries
33. Vaughan Salisbury, Education Officer, Presbyterian Church of Wales
The persons listed above in bold (my emphasis) Claire Rowlands, John Pugsley and Manon Jones are Welsh Government civil servants. One can only imagine what the impression made by this large number of representatives of the religion industry upon these civil servants but it was surely out of proportion to the numbers of people in Wales who are devoutly religious.
Now the Cross-Party Group on Faith has no role in policy development but does allow special interest groups to meet with a number of Assembly Members in the Senedd environment. Cross Party Groups must include members from three or more parties in the Senedd. No doubt the civil servants were able to communicate little, at this stage, about the future of “God in the Classroom”. Never-the-less, if the Donaldson Report recommendations in Successful Futures are to be implemented then the title of this conference is inappropriate. The title “Religion in the Classroom” would be very much more appropriate.
The implementation of changes to the curriculum of schools in Wales in the light of the Donaldson Report is the major task in education of the Welsh Government in the Fifth Assembly.
The Donaldson Report says on religion in the curriculum:
“Its role can be misunderstood as being about the promotion of a particular faith or belief system rather than developing respect and understanding of different forms of religion over time and in different societies”.
The title “God in the Classroom” exhibits just such a misunderstanding. Teaching religion objectively requires that the beliefs of various religions are taught in a detached, objective, scholarly way and, where necessary, challenging these beliefs. Teachers must not attempt to convince children of the truth of any of the claims of religion although they may be presented impartially. If parents wish to indoctrinate their children in the parents’ own religion they have more than half the child’s waking hours in which to do this. The purpose of education is to introduce the child to the whole of human knowledge – of which religion is a small and diminishing proportion.