The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Religious Education found that when schools provide a decent grounding in religion and belief, there are fewer racial problems in communities.
MPs heard from a number of subject and community experts that understanding about the place of RE in schools was often inaccurate and misinformed.
In its summary report, RE and Good Community Relations, presented to education secretary Michael Gove on Monday (March 17), it said that schools needed clear policies on community relations and equalities with regard to religion and belief, to better inform young people about the need for dialogue and acceptance.
Teachers needed better support and training to give them confidence to teach often complex and contentious issues such as inter-religious conflict. This would include training on the use of social media to forge links between children and young people of different backgrounds, the study recommended.
The report also called for the use of the Standing Advisory Council on RE (SACRE) and other networks to promote contact between young people, including via youth conferences, school links and intercultural projects.
Stephen Lloyd MP, the chair of the APPG, said: “Religion and belief are often portrayed inaccurately. Myths and stereotypes permeate the popular media and have become embedded in the national psyche. It is vital that all young people are armed with the right knowledge and facts to discriminate between myth and reality.
“Schools and colleges are a safe and trusted place to explore religions, conflict and world views in a constructive and positive way. There are a large number of excellent RE teachers in schools and colleges nationwide who are doing an outstanding job in linking RE back to their communities. This prepares children for the challenges and opportunities of multicultural life, and helps them live harmoniously with others.”
Mr Lloyd said that despite Ofsted no longer monitoring the duty of schools to promote community cohesion “there is an opportunity for RE to contribute to stronger community links and provide strong resource materials that support religious and non-religious diversity in our society”.
He added: “This report shows how good RE, in teaching of all the world’s religions and those of none, can support a school’s broader responsibility to create well-rounded, knowledgeable and adaptable young people.”
Stephen Parker, professor of the history of religion and education, at the University of Worcester, who has carried out research into the contribution of RE to community relations, said: “This report comes at a time when the future of RE in schools is being made uncertain by government policies, which though perhaps unintended undermine its viability and standing as a subject.
“Teaching children and young people about a range of faiths offers them opportunities to engage with the world from different and alternative perspectives, thus enriching their own formative one. What this report underlines is the avowed importance of RE in creating a healthy society and therefore the risks involved in eroding schools’ capacity to provide quality provision in this subject area.”