A study from Liverpool Hope University has revealed that parents are pulling their children out of Religious Education classes because they do not want them to learn about Islam. Four in ten school leaders said they had received requests to remove children from RE lessons from parents.
Parents have the right to withdraw their children from RE and collective worship under the 1944 Education Act, which was originally designed to protect the rights of non-religious and non-Christian parents to raise their children according to their own beliefs. Whereas RE at this time focused on Christianity, RE today covers the other main religions in the UK and helps “prepare young people for life in modern Britain by enabling students to acquire an appreciation of and respect for their own culture and other cultures”. The author of the study, Dr David Lundie, notes that, “Given this fundamental change in the subject’s aims and purpose, questions have recently been raised by a number of reports, as to the continued appropriateness of the parental right to withdraw”. This is the subject of examination for his report.
Lundie’s research shows that confusion exists as to the correct operation of the right of withdrawal, and that in the vast majority of schools surveyed (94.1%), few or no children are currently actually withdrawn from RE. However, a significant minority of participants (38.1%) have experienced requests to withdraw children selectively from part of the RE curriculum. Lundie notes, “Largely, this seems to relate to the teaching of Islam, with many participants reporting concerns about racism or Islamophobia as a motivating factor for parents seeking to exercise the right to withdraw. In 8 cases, participants reported making a referral to the school’s safeguarding lead following a request for a child to be withdrawn from some element of the curriculum”.
One participant who reported requests for withdrawal at their school said, “I have been very shocked by parents refusing to allow their children to visit a mosque. I found it difficult to understand that the parents thought that this would irrevocably harm their child… In the end I couldn’t take the children to the mosque as parents refused to sign the permission slip, but they had to remain in school and learn about mosques from the internet which included a virtual tour of a mosque. The children were sad that they were unable to go with their friends”. Another said, “I am really concerned about the children of white, British parents who are basing their decision to withdraw on racism”.
Lundie writes that this trend represents a problem. While school leaders suggested racism and Islamophobia as motivating factors behind the decisions of parents who apply to selectively remove their children from learning about Islam in RE, the report suggests that they can likely be partly related “to campaigns by the BNP in 2004 and EDL in recent years, urging parents to withdraw their children from all teaching about Islam”, as well as “media hype” about Islam.
The profile of responses from church schools is “broadly similar” to that of non-faith schools.
22.4% of school leaders said they had received requests for children to be exempt from other curriculum subjects for religious reasons. This might have included lessons in which evolution or musical instrument tuition were being taught.
Lundie recommends that legal clarification must be given on the right of parents to withdraw selectively from part (but not all) of the RE curriculum, whether parents seeking to withdraw their children are responsible for providing an alternative curriculum, and whether children withdrawn from RE can access other curriculum subjects or support during the allotted RE time. He also recommends that legislators should consider the appropriateness of the right of withdrawal, taking into considerations the recommendations of experts in RE and religion in public life.
 Vaughan, 2018.
 Lundie, 2018, 1.
 Lundie, 2018, 1.
 Lundie, 2018, 6.
 Lundie, 2018, 7; Vaughan, 2018.
 Lundie, 2018, 9.
 Lundie, 2018, 7.
 Lundie, 2018, 2.
Lundie, D. (2018) ‘Religious Education and the Right of Withdrawal’. [online] https://davidlundie.files.wordpress.com/2018/04/report-on-re-opt-out-wcover.pdf. [Accessed 10 May 2018].
Vaughan, R. (2018) ‘Parents remove children from lessons about Islam’. [online] 10 May. https://www.pressreader.com/uk/i-newspaper/20180510/281870119075962. [Accessed 10 May 2018].