THE Government's decision to exclude religious studies from the new English Baccalaureate could lead to a lack of cultural understanding in Croydon, it is claimed.
On a visit to Trinity School, in Shirley, on Friday, eminent philosopher Dr Peter Vardy told the Advertiser education reforms could result in fewer young people taking the subject, with disastrous consequences for society.
"It is a tragedy. In an increasingly multicultural world people need to understand one another," he said.
"Young people are naturally interested in life's big questions and really respond to the opportunity to address them with intellectual rigour, developing high-level skills in critical thinking as well as understanding of the insights of the world's greatest thinkers.
"Religious studies and philosophy help young people to listen, to discuss, to appreciate different points of view and deal with complexity."
Education reforms spearheaded by Michael Gove will put a greater weight on the EBacc, which incorporates what the Government has deemed the "core subjects" of English, maths and science.
But critics including Dr Vardy fear the move will result in arts subjects being sidelined as schools and students increasingly focus on the EBacc.
"Well-placed people I have spoken to say Michael Gove is adamant that this is the way things should be going and will push it through," Dr Vardy explained, adding: "I fear that it is because he wants to create economically effective units who will encourage growth, but that is short-sighted.
"Look at the financial crisis. We need young people with a broad range of skills and understanding, not a narrowing of education."
Dr Vardy was speaking after addressing around 250 sixth-form students from 12 schools who had gathered at Trinity School to take part in a day of presentations and debates, covering topics such as the "Cosmological and ontological arguments" and "Freud, Jung and the psychology of religion".
Trinity's head of religious studies Esmond Lee said his subject was very popular with students, with 95 of the 125-strong Year 11 planning to take the GCSE next summer.
Upper sixth-former Sarah Bingham believes the subject should have a place in the EBacc.
"It should definitely be included," she said.
"Religious studies is really important to help us understand one another. There's also a lot of philosophy involved and it gives you analytical skills."
The 17-year-old added the subject was "definitely not" just taken by those who followed a religion.
Jamie Lambert, 16, is in the lower sixth and studied RS at GCSE.
"I really enjoy the debating side of things when you look at issues like the existence of God. It has definitely broadened my view on life," he said.