CHILDREN SHOULD begin to learn about another religion alongside Christianity from the age of five, according to new government guidelines on teaching religious education published yesterday.
By the time they have finished compulsory education, they should have learnt about the six principal religions represented in the UK - Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism.
A report drawn up by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) - the government's curriculum and examinations watchdog, says: "It is important that schools make every effort to ensure that during their school life pupils encounter the principal religions."
The report also calls on young people to study other minority religious traditions, singling out the Baha'i faith, Jainism and Zoroastrianism, in particular.
Pupils should also consider secular philosophies, such as humanism "in considering ultimate questions and ethical issues", the report adds. The document says that pupils should be able to study minority religions that have a following in their community.
In different areas of the country, this could mean the study of a different minority sect.
Yesterday's report was broadly welcomed by all the faith groups. The Church of England said that it recognised the "sensitivity with which the Government and the QCA have handled the process" of devising a religious education curriculum.
The Muslim Council of Britain and the Muslim Educational Trust said: "The Muslim community welcomes this initiative as it seeks to promote a pluralistic society where one can retain both individual integrity as well as share that which is of corporate value and benefit for us all."
The guidelines make it clear that Christianity should be studied by all pupils throughout their schooling - as the country's main religion.
However, pupils should also study one other religion between the ages of five and seven, at least two more between the age of seven and 11 and at least a further two between the age of 11 and 14 - so that they cover all of the principal religions by the time they leave school.
The guidelines add that teachers should aim to develop good relationships that respect the differences of people and warn of the "destructive power of prejudice" and the challenge of "racism, discrimination, offending behaviour and bullying".
Between the ages of five and seven, pupils should visit different places of worship and understand "how and why religious people celebrate", the report says. …