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Education Minister: Religious Education overhaul 'could protect young people from radicalisation'

Religious Education is compulsory at St Julian's School in Newport, as it is around Wales. Photo: ITV News

The fight against the radicalisation of Welsh teenagers is being brought into the school curriculum.

Wales' Education Minister has told ITV News that he wants reforms to religious education to help protect young people from extremists.

It is part of plans to overhaul what our children learn, due to be in our classrooms by 2021.

Watch Tom Sheldrick's report:

Changes to the teaching of what we currently call Religious Education, or Religious Studies, could come under reforms to the school curriculum, which the Welsh Government is pushing ahead with.

The Education Minister told ITV News today that he believes effective teaching of a subject he has titled 'Religion, Philosophy and Ethics' could equip young people here with a level of knowledge and understanding which means they would not be vulnerable to extremists.

A person that has an idea of the meaning of fundamental ideas, whether they're about faith or whether they're about how society is put together, then they're not vulnerable to people who might want to manipulate them, because they think for themselves.

And we want Welsh young people to be in that situation when they leave our schools.

– Huw Lewis, Education Minister
Education Minister Huw Lewis was speaking to a conference of teachers in Cardiff today.

The threat of extremism has been made apparent here, due to the radicalisation of three young men from Cardiff - who grew up and went to school here, but then joined Islamic State militants in Syria.

Reyaad Khan, 21, was killed by a targeted British airstrike in August, after the Prime Minister said he was plotting 'barbaric' attacks on UK soil.

Reyaad Khan and another man from Cardiff appeared in an Islamic State recruitment video. Credit: Islamic State

Different faith groups in Wales have had conflicting responses to the Minister's plans.

The Henna Foundation, a charity which works with Welsh Muslim families, has welcomed the ambition to fight radicalisation more proactively in schools.

We need to develop safe spaces for young people to discuss what's happening in the world today. It's those pertinent issues that are challenging us today, like: what do Muslims feel about violence? All those questions which other people want to know. Classrooms should be able to provide that safe space for those conversations to happen.

– Shereen Williams, Henna Foundation

Jewish community representatives have raised concerns that changes to Religious Education would make young people less likely to understand different faiths and cultures.

Educating the children into the ways other faiths do things, to understand other cultures, it's one of our real strong points.

To have that diluted, or to be removed from the children's syllabus, would be - I think - a tremendous step backwards.

– Rabbi Michael Rose, Minister at Cardiff United Synagogue

Changes to Religious Education as part of the new school curriculum should be drawn up by 2018, the Education Minister announced today.

Pioneer schools and experts will now work on the detail - and schools should begin teaching what they come up with by 2021.

R.E. is due to be renamed as 'Religion, Philosophy and Ethics.'