To the Friends Meeting House, Queens Road this afternoon, for a meeting of Leicester SACRE (Standing Advisory Committee on Religious Education).
This is the second SACRE meeting I've attended on behalf of Leicester Council of Faiths. The Inter Faith Network for the UK is encouraging local inter faith groups to become more closely involved with SACRE in their area. But SACREs have very particular functions and responsibilities and it can be difficult to see just how local inter faith groups fit in with that. But there's a good spirit of cooperation between the Council of Faiths and SACRE in Leicester and we're considering the best fit between us. SACRE is rewriting its constitution and an appropriate place for the Council of Faiths can be found within the new one.
This meeting is a good example of the kind of role we can play alongside or within SACRE. Leicester City Council has become concerned about the effect on school attendance of time taken off for religious observances. Such time taken off was not visible before because of the use of an "R" code in school registers. This marked days off for religious reasons and the school had discretion about whether this had to be included in the overall number of absences. In effect, a pupil could be off school for purposes of religious observance, but could be considered as being present on those days. Recent changes in recording absences in school have done away with the "R" code, so schools no longer have that discretion. Now if a pupil is off school for religious reasons, it must be shown as an absence - even if an authorised one, it still contributes to the school's record of total absences. So, all of a sudden, the number of absences has leapt for the city as a whole - from 15,858 sessions missed in 2007-08 to 45,453 session missed in 2008-09 (figures are for all schools, primary and secondary). That's a 300% increase in one year, all due to a new method of recording. The City Council is considering a range of options that would allow schools in Leicester to be more responsive to the pattern of life of the city's faith communities, thus ameliorating the effect on children’s education of missing so many sessions. Several practical (and a few impractical) options are discussed at this meeting today. One step that was agreed on was to engage leaders and representatives of the city's faith communities on this topic. The Council of Faiths recently hosted a focus group with representatives of the City Council on the current review of bereavement services (see blog entry, "staying in focus", below). We may be able to offer the City Council something similar on this issue. It's not my place to commit the Council of Faiths to doing such a thing on this occasion, but I will pass this on to our officers for them to make a decision. I gave my calling card to the two representatives of the City Council who brought their paper on this topic to this meeting and said we'd be in touch.
Noel Singh, Policy Officer with Leicestershire County Council, speaks about relations with Leicestershire SACRE and the Interfaith Forum for Leicestershire. It's gratifying to see that Noel's notes are written on REDP notepaper!
We also get an update from Jill Carr on the booklet series project, "Engaging with Faith Communities in Leicester", which I'm helping write, along with the Schools Development Support Agency (SDSA).
Find out more about Leicester SACRE: