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Former Chair of Parliamentary Group on RE writes of fear of it turning into ‘religious sect’ as study of non-religious worldviews is removed from remit

Stephen Lloyd, former MP for Eastbourne and founder Chair (2012-15) of the All Party Parliamentary Group on RE.

Stephen Lloyd, former MP for Eastbourne and founder Chair (2012-15) of the All Party Parliamentary Group on RE.

Stephen Lloyd, former Member of Parliament for Eastbourne and the founder Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Religious Education, has today spoken out about his fears of the current group turning ‘into a religious sect overwhelmingly directed by the fundamentalist Christian wing of the Conservative parliamentary party’ after the remit of the group was amended in a shock move that has been condemned by the RE community.

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on RE, led by Conservative MPs Fiona Bruce and David Burrowes, has voted to remove the study of non-religious worldviews from its purpose. Since its foundation, the purpose of the group has been ‘To provide a medium through which parliamentarians and organisations with an interest in religious education can discuss the current provision of religious education, press for continuous improvement, promote public understanding and advocate rigorous education for every young person in religious and non-religious world views.’ This has now been amended to remove ‘and non-religious’. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has expressed its shock at the decision. In addition, the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC), which until a few months ago provided the secretariat for the group, and National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE), have both expressed their disappointment.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘Non-religious worldviews, including Humanism, have been part of RE in English schools for over half a century. Their study alongside religions is supported by a huge majority of teachers, parents, and pupils and contributes to a broad and balanced curriculum. Their study is vital for children to understand today’s society in Britain and globally, as well as our history and heritage as a country; it is vital for the moral education of the majority of children who are not religious; and it is vital for their intellectual development. More than that – it is the law. This alarming development by ideological parliamentarians – all of them conservative Christians – places them almost as far outside the educational and general mainstream as is possible and guarantees their irrelevance at the same time as it illustrates their prejudice.’

Writing for politics.co.uk, Stephen Lloyd says that ‘In the previous parliament it was absolutely core to the APPG’s view, and remains so to that of the RE Council and the majority of RE teachers, that a key part of good RE teaching in schools should be to educate our children about all the different faiths and those with none. In today’s ever more polarised world, where there is a woeful level of ignorance about people’s different beliefs, it was essential to me that the APPG support and encourage a gold standard of broad, informed debate across the different religions and non-religious worldviews.

‘I profoundly believed then and now that it is more important than ever that our schools should inform our children, accurately, about a wide spectrum of views and values. To change this is a retrograde step.’

REC Chief Executive Rudolf Eliott Lockhart and NATRE Chair Daniel Hugill have released a joint statement, in which they commented: ‘We are disappointed that the All Party Parliamentary Group has decided to narrow its understanding of what religious education (RE) means. RE is a dynamic subject that benefits from an ongoing debate over its nature and scope. Members of both the RE Council and NATRE continue to discuss and review the current and future shape of religious education. A broad and inclusive approach to these discussions is necessary for the health of the subject. The APPG has chosen to cut itself off from an important part of the debate. In doing so it makes itself out of touch with the reality of a vibrant part of what is going on in many RE classrooms across the country.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Andrew Copson on 07534 248596 or Stephen Lloyd.

Both Ms Bruce and Mr Burrowes have a long history of advocating discrimination against the non-religious in RE:

  • In 2012, when the APPG was first set up, both were elected Vice Chairs, alongside then-MP Mike Crockart. Founder Chair Stephen Lloyd recounts that David Burrowes subsequently approached him to request that Mike Crockart be removed as a member of the Executive as he was a member of the BHA and David expressed a view that only people of faith should be on the executive of the APPG. He added to Stephen that if his wish was not granted he would resign. Stephen refused to remove Mike and so David duly resigned.
  • In 2013 Fiona and David lobbied Department for Education (DfE) ministers against the REC’s curriculum framework for RE at key stage 1-3, over the fact that it is equally inclusive of non-religious worldviews as it is of the major religions.
  • In 2014 both similarly lobbied ministers in opposition to inclusion of non-religious worldviews in GCSE and A level RS.
  • Since Fiona became Chair of the group in 2015 and David again became Vice Chair, the group appears to primarily be working with Guy Hordern and Marius Felderhof of Birmingham SACRE by way of external support for their work. Through Birmingham SACRE, of which they are members, Guy and Marius have long campaigned for the exclusion of non-religious worldviews from RE, even going as far as to legally threaten the Labour Government over its inclusive approach in 2010 guidance.
  • See also this January’s REC statement about how Fiona became Chair of the group and her dismissal of the REC as group secretariat.

Fiona and David, supported by five other Conservative Christian MPs, have now together amended the remit of the group.

Read Stephen Lloyd’s article: http://www.politics.co.uk/comment-analysis/2016/04/06/the-fundamentalist-wing-of-the-tory-party-is-pushing-out-non

Read the REC and NATRE joint statement: http://religiouseducationcouncil.org.uk/political-engagement/news/2016-04-01/rec-joint-statement-with-natre-on-the-appg-on-re

The British Humanist Association has produced a briefing setting out the reasons why Humanism is normally included in Religious Education nowadays, but in summary:

  • All the usual contemporary justifications for the subject of RE in the school curriculum – its contribution to social cohesion and mutual understanding, its presentation of a range of answers to questions of meaning and purpose, and its role in the search for personal identity and values – can best be served by including humanist perspectives and non-religious students.
  • Humanism has long been part of Religious Education and the Religious Education Council has long supported this inclusion. Successive Government documents have recommended the inclusion of non-religious worldviews such as humanism, and the 2013 Curriculum Framework is as inclusive of teaching about non-religious worldviews as it is of teaching about religions. This is also reflected in locally agreed syllabuses, the vast majority of which include the teaching of humanism with many having extensive modules dedicated to its study. This is also reflected in locally agreed syllabuses, the vast majority of which include the teaching of Humanism with many having extensive modules dedicated to its study and a comparative level of inclusion as with the principal religions. The REC’s vision is that ‘Every young person experiences a personally inspiring and academically rigorous education in religious and non-religious worldviews’.
  • It is vital that Religious Education remains relevant to young people and with surveys suggesting that between 31% and 65% are not religious, this means including non-religious worldviews. RE struggles to engage these young people when their beliefs are excluded.
  • International agreements all recommend the inclusion of non-religious worldviews alongside religious beliefs and in fact the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief specifically recommended it in her last report on the UK.
  • The BHA has long played an active part in the RE Council including at the Board level and has been involved in the steering groups of all relevant government and quango reviews for the last decade. Almost six out of seven English SACREs now include a humanist.
  • The Independent School Standards require schools to ‘actively promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect, and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.’ Departmental advice has recommended that schools meet this standard by using ‘teaching resources from a wide variety of sources to help pupils understand a range of faiths, and beliefs such as atheism and humanism.’

The BHA has been involved in policy development around RE for over 60 years. It is a founding member of the RE Council for England and Wales, and our Campaigns Manager is the Treasurer. BHA staff have served as Trustees continually since the 1990s. In recent years, the BHA has also been on the Department for Education steering groups which developed the 2004 non-statutory national framework (to which we gave our named support); the non-statutory programmes of study and attainment targets for key stages 3-5 in 2007; the abandoned level descriptions and key stage 1/2 non-statutory programme of learning in 2010; and the 2010 non-statutory guidance, and on the steering group of the 2013 RE Subject Review. We have also sat on similar bodies with Ofsted, Ofqual and the QCDA. We helped to develop Ofsted’s guidance on spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.

We provide materials and advice to parents, governors, students, teachers and academics, for example through http://www.humanismforschools.org.uk/ and our school volunteers programme. We have made detailed responses to all recent reviews of the school curriculum, and submit memoranda of evidence to parliamentary select committees on a range of education issues.

Our support for RE is also reflected by the fact that many standing advisory councils on RE (SACREs) and agreed syllabus conferences (ASCs) have had humanist representatives (in some cases for decades), including as Chairs and Vice-Chairs. Recent years have seen a rise in the number of humanists who are on SACREs, as documents such as the 2010 RE guidance and 2013 national framework have referred to teaching about non-religious beliefs such as Humanism. As a result almost six out of seven English SACREs now have a humanist representative, the vast majority of locally agreed syllabuses include Humanism to some extent, and many do so to a high level of depth.

Read more about the BHA’s work on RE: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/school-curriculum/religious-education/

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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