News / Education about faiths needs a major shift in focus, finds new report

Education about faiths needs a major shift in focus, finds new report



07 / 07 / 15

A new report launched at IPPR by charity 3FF (The Three Faiths Forum) and education and youth ‘think and action-tank’ LKMco argues for a major shift in education policy and practice about faiths and beliefs, towards a system of ‘intercultural education’.

Drawing on the experience of educational experts working in schools across Britain, the report states that pupils from different backgrounds need to interact with each other to build tolerance and understanding. It proposes several principles for good practice, including:

  • Policymakers need to move beyond ‘multiculturalism’ and towards intercultural education which actually engages with differences between beliefs.
  • Pupils need to be taught skills to deal with controversial issues surrounding belief effectively.
  • Education should tackle challenges different communities are facing, such as inter-religious tensions and prejudice.

The report, “Encountering Faiths and Beliefs: the role of intercultural education in schools and communities” (which can be downloaded here), argues that positive interactions help people bridge cultural divides but cautions against a half-hearted approach.

Lead author Anna Trethewey explains: “Given the sensitive nature of the issues, bad intercultural education can be worse than no intercultural education at all. Our research uncovered examples of poor intercultural education that only reinforced stereotypes or which took an unbalanced and tokenistic approach. In one example, people had invited guests to a synagogue, but were then denied access to a church on a reciprocal visit. In another case, a faith leader preached at their audience and allowed little space for dialogue.”

In contrast, effective Intercultural education brings people together across difference. This means helping pupils recognise commonalities but also supporting them to engage in tough conversations about difference.

The report argues that schools should equip pupils with the language to explore challenging questions and not just learn facts about religious beliefs, but what it is like to live with them; so-called ‘lived belief’. For example, whilst a traditional RE lesson might look at Islamic beliefs around the hijab, the report highlights one session in which a Muslim women explained why she changed her mind about wearing the hijab and what her experiences were like once she began to wear it.

By drawing together intercultural education practitioners’ experience and expertise ‘Encountering Faiths and Beliefs’ shows that a positive responses to the so-called Trojan Horse episode and rising extremism is possible. The report argues for an approach that is not just reactive but which equips people for life in a diverse society.

Tamanda Walker, Training Manager at 3FF: “We live in a multicultural society, but not necessarily an intercultural or an interfaith society. We have communities living together side by side, but how much they interact and the quality of the interaction can really vary.”

3FF Director Stephen Shashoua: “There is an urgent need to promote effective methods for policymakers and educators to better deal with the complex realities around religion and belief. Young people need the skills to successfully navigate and thrive in our diverse society. Through our work in both the UK and Sweden have seen first-hand how intercultural approaches can help shift perceptions, attitudes and behaviours in a more positive direction.


For more information:

3FF: | 0207 482 9535



Notes for editors

“Encountering Faiths and Beliefs: the role of Intercultural education in schools and communities” will be launched at the IPPR on Tuesday 7 July as part of a round table featuring:

  • Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC (Conservative MP for Beaconsfield)
  • Anna Tretheway (Senior Associate and report author, LKMco)
  • Yasmeen Akhtar (Programmes Manager, 3FF)
  • Martha Shaw, Researcher, Faiths and Civil Society Unit, Goldmiths University
  • Stephen Shashoua, Director, 3FF

3FF, the Three Faiths Forum, has worked to build good relations between people of different faiths, beliefs and cultures for nearly twenty years. 3FF creates safe spaces in schools, universities, places of work and worship and the wider community where people can engage with questions of belief and identity and meet people different from themselves.
LKMco is an education and youth ‘think and action-tank’ that believes society has a duty to ensure children and young people receive the support they need in order to make a fulfilling transition to adulthood. LKMco works towards this vision by helping education and youth organisations develop, evaluate and improve their work with young people and by carrying out academic and policy research that is grounded in experience.

Full list of recommendations from the report:

5 lessons for practice

  1. Teach the tools and language to discuss issues sensitively
  2. Focus on personal experience as an individual not as a ‘representative’
  3. Foster dialogue not debate
  4. Tailor the approach to the context and the challenges the community is overcoming
  5. Support participants to reflect on learning and take it into the wider world

4 principles to guide policy

  1. Move beyond multiculturalism towards interculturalism
  2. Develop a ‘tight but loose’ approach that sets goals nationally but supports local solutions backed up by specialist expertise
  3. Promote IE in schools as a way to explore difference and broaden horizons
  4. Make IE’s goals explicit and support the development of evaluation frameworks that can be used in research and good practice sharing.

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