Schools minister declares support for teaching humanism in RE

Minister of State for Schools Nick Gibb MP has stated his support for teaching non-religious beliefs such as humanism as part of Religious Education (RE). The British Humanist Association (BHA) has welcomed the minister’s comments.

The BHA has a long history of involvement in RE, having been a founder member of the Religious Education Council for England and Wales (REC) in 1973. The BHA was involved in the development of the 2004 English non-statutory national framework on RE and the 2010 non-statutory guidance on RE. The BHA dedicates significant resources to producing classroom materials to support RE (such as the website http://www.humanismforschools.org.uk/) and to training RE PGCE students at a number of initial teacher training (ITT) providers.

There is no nationally determined RE syllabus, but instead syllabuses are set at a local authority level and overseen by bodies known as Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education (SACREs). There are 151 SACREs in England and 22 in Wales. Over the past year, the BHA has been working hard to increase the number of SACREs with a humanist representative, and as a result, this has risen from about half to almost two-thirds.

Writing in response to a letter from BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson, Mr Gibb said, ‘I agree with you that it is valuable for young people to be aware of different philosophical approaches, such as humanism. I am sure that many schools will be interested to teach about non-religious ways of looking at the world, as part of preparing their pupils for adult life and I am happy to support them if they do.’

BHA Education Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘We welcome Nick Gibb’s support for the teaching of humanism, as we believe it is important that all young people learn about the full variety of beliefs commonly held in today’s society. A small but significant number of local authorities responsible for RE reject the teaching of non-religious beliefs on principle, with some even arguing that to do so would be unlawful; we hope Mr Gibb’s comments might make them think again.

 ‘Surveys consistently show that the majority of young people are not religious: the 2010 British Social Attitudes Survey records 65% of 18-24 year olds as being in this position. Similarly, Department for Education research from 2004 found 65% of 12-19 year olds having no religious affiliation. Any local authority that chooses not to include non-religious beliefs in its syllabus for RE would be failing its pupils in this important area.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7462 4993.

Read more about the BHA’s work on Religious Education: http://www.humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/religious-education

Read more surveys and statistics on religion and belief: http://www.humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-belief-surveys-statistics

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of ethically concerned, non-religious people in the UK. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.