Including non-religious students in RE
Even if your SACRE does not adopt some or all of the national framework for RE (QCA, 2004), the new guidelines will influence resources and practice, as will increasingly inclusive GCSE RS criteria and syllabuses. See Humanism in the national framework for RE. Even without having to rewrite syllabuses and schemes of work, there is much that can be done in the classroom to include agnostic, atheist and humanist children. Many of the following, which are based on existing good practice, require only a note in the margin or a few changes, of emphasis or language, to schemes of work:
- Don’t assume children belong to a religion or believe in an afterlife ot that all families share your beliefs. Acknowledge the non-religious backgrounds of many children, in the interests of inclusive moral and spiritual education. Make it clear that they and their families can lead good lives.
- Don’t patronise or try to convert non-religious pupils.
- Make it clear that “moral” and “religious” are not the same thing.
- Use inclusive language (for example, “belief” or “life stance” or “world view” or “philosophy” or “ethical tradition” instead of “religion” or “faith”) wherever possible.
- When setting tasks, make sure a non-believer could do them with a clear conscience. For example, anyone could write a “reflection”, though they might be unhappy at having to write a prayer. Questions such as the one requiring students to give advice to “a close friend of your own religion” (WJEC RE GCSE, Summer 1998) fail miserably to include those of no religion.
- With very young children, don’t assume that they know anything about religion; God should be introduced as an idea that some people believe in, not as a given fact.
- Indeed, almost any statement about any religion or god, at any Key Stage, should be prefaced by: “Some people believe…” (not: “We believe…”).
- Children should be taught religious stories (e.g. creation myths, miracles) in such a way that their understanding of science is not compromised. Children will be aware of evolution from visits to museums and books and television programmes – RE should not contradict this. The nature display should not be called the “creation” display.
- Try to include non-religious perspectives (such as those produced by the BHA) when discussing ethical and religious issues. These are worth a whole lesson but don’t necessarily need one – they can be integrated into discussion or set as research assignments.
- When you teach about rites of passage, or general themes and the fundamental questions of life, such as death, the purpose of life, or belief, give some attention to the viewpoints and experience of agnostics, atheists and, especially, humanists – viewpoints many children and teachers will identify with. No child should leave school thinking that there they are “nothing” or that there are no good ceremonies for the non-religious – that just perpetuates hypocrisy and ignorance.
- Other concepts and topics that come up in RE and where a humanist perspective is relevant include: “awe and wonder”; history and people; prayer; science and religion; symbols; texts.
- Look again at the Statement of Values included in the revised National Curriculum as an appendix. These are widely agreed shared values (with an acknowledgement that they are compatible with disagreement about their source – God for the religious, human nature for others), there to give teachers of all subjects and persuasions confidence and encouragement to teach them.
Resources for teachers and students
Issues in RE for humanist pupils
Pre-school and Nursery Issues
Why include Humanism in RE?
Humanist Perspectives 1 and 2 (BHA) contain much useful information for teachers and photocopiable pages for pupils.