Children in primary school should begin learning about religious beliefs, the Religious Education Council for England and Wales has said, responding to recent reports revealing that less than half of schools in England present adequate religious education.
The October 2013 study, titled "A Curriculum Framework for Religious Education in England," comes in response to a report published by Ofsted, the U.K.'s official body for inspecting schools, which revealed that religious education is being "squeezed out" and that schools have a confused "sense of purpose" when it comes to offering religious education.
"At its best, religious education encourages children and young people to extend their natural curiosity and prepares them for life in modern society," said Michael Cladingbowl, Ofsted's director of schools.
"We saw some great examples of this during the survey, but too often we found religious education lessons being squeezed out by other subjects and children and young people leaving school with little knowledge or understanding of different religions."
The Religious Education Council, which represents around 60 faith groups in the U.K., has said it plans to re-energize religious education, and offered that primary school children should also begin visiting places of worship, like churches, mosques and synagogues, as part of their education. It also encouraged older children to begin exploring deep questions such as 'does God exist?' and 'where did the universe come from?'
"The new framework is an important step in securing the future of RE in our schools," said John Keast, chair of the Religious Education Council.
"Some schools boast good and outstanding RE yet many cannot. In recent years RE has fallen into a vacuum. Falling back on the safety net of statutory provision is not enough to ensure consistent high standards, strong teaching, adequate examination provision and clarity on what the subject covers."
The study states that religious education is very important for children and young people, and that schools should be "provoking challenging questions about meaning and purpose in life, beliefs about God, ultimate reality, issues of right and wrong and what it means to be human."
It adds that children should also be taught how to weigh the wisdom from different sources, and learn how to develop and express their insights into these topics. For that purpose, the Religious Education Council says that teachers should equip pupils with systematic knowledge and understanding, helping them develop ideas.
"Pupils should gain and deploy the skills needed to understand, interpret and evaluate texts, sources of wisdom and authority and other evidence," the study continues. "They learn to articulate clearly and coherently their personal beliefs, ideas, values and experiences while respecting the right of others to differ."