Last week in the House of Commons, an MP asked a question of three Government departments. The question was the same to each department. To ask the Secretary of State for ____________, if he will take steps to ensure that staff in his Department receive religious literacy training. The answers do vary although there is a common thread, which reflects the training available to all civil servants. The MP who asked the question was Fiona Bruce, MP for Congleton and Chair of the International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact. Because these were all written questions, there is no debate, simply a question and an answer. I have listed the three responses in order with the longest response first. The reason for raising this matter in my blog is that the final answer seems to me to be indicative of the problems inherent within one of our Government Departments. The reality is that religious literacy training in 1960 would have probably been no more than understanding the difference between CofE and Roman Catholic. However in 2016 religious literacy demands a much more dynamic understanding of faiths and religions that are adapting and changing in a complex world. It is no longer possible to rely on what one learned at School or University, even assuming the subject was covered.
Marcus Jones, Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) – Civil Service Learning, the main training portal for civil servants, has a broad range of diversity and inclusion learning, which is available to all civil servants. There is also a two day course covering both Abrahamic and Dharmic religions for officials who need a more in depth understanding to carry out their role. DCLG officials have had discussions with the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life (CORAB) about their call for greater religious literacy in every section of society. The Government is aware of the recent evidence sessions on religious literacy held by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Religious Education and will carefully consider the findings of the Group’s report when it is published.
David Lidington, Minister for Europe in Foreign and Commonwealth Office – Training to develop religious literacy is provided at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London and at a number of Embassies and High Commissions overseas. In London, staff are offered a two day course covering Abrahamic and Dharmic religions. This is supplemented by a range of training activities on specific religions and religious topics. A religion and foreign policy element is being built into the syllabus offered to all staff through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Diplomatic Academy.
Nick Gibb, Minister for Schools – We currently have no plans to carry out religious literacy training in the Department. Civil Service Learning, the main training portal for Civil Servants, has a broad range of diversity and inclusion courses, which are available to all civil servants. There is also a two day course covering both Abrahamic and Dharmic religions for officials who need a more in depth understanding to carry out their role.
It is certainly the case that civil servants working for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office need to have a good grounding in many cultural issues if they are to work effectively. Faith is clearly part of this and so there is no surprise that they do actually offer training to their staff. The same is true of a Department that is known as Department for Communities, particularly as it carries the Governmental responsibility for cohesion of communities and is also the department in which the renamed Inner Cities Religious Council is hosted. However it is telling that the department which is responsible for teaching our children and for training adults, including those who arrive from other nations has no specific response to this question. It is also ironic that the one Government Department that is based in the same Street as Church House, appears to be the one that is not too interested in the work of its neighbours. It is time for the DfE to wake up and sort out their priorities!