Call for daily act of worship to be scrapped
In a series of suggested reforms, he called for a new national syllabus for teaching religion and claimed the phrase religious education should be changed to religious and moral education.
Mr Clarke made the recommendations in a report published by Westminster Faith Debates.
Religion in schools must be re-examined “in the light of contemporary beliefs and practices, illuminated by the latest research”, he claimed.
He added: “On this basis we propose a new educational settlement which can better foster genuine understanding of modern religion and belief, and allow young people better to explore their own and other people’s religious and non-religious beliefs and come to their own conclusions.”
The British Humanist Association broadly welcomed the report, while the Dean of Westminster, the Very Rev John Hall, said it provided “illumination” on young people’s need to develop spirituality and morality.
Mr Clarke, who served as Education Secretary from 2002 to 2004, argued that it should no longer be a legal requirement for schools to provide a daily act of worship for pupils.
“The current requirement in statute for an act of collective worship should be abolished, and the decision about the form and character of school assemblies should be left to the governors of individual schools,” the former Labour MP for Norwich South wrote.
The report, co-authored by Linda Woodhead, professor of politics, philosophy and religion at Lancaster University, went on to say that more needs to be done to develop fairer admissions procedures for faith schools.
A Department for Education spokesman said: “Religious education is vitally important to help children develop the British values of tolerance, respect and understanding for others.
“It prepares young people for life in modern Britain and that is why it remains compulsory at all key stages. Parents can rightly withdraw their children from all or any part of RE in all schools.”