Education about religions and beliefs in all types of school, including ‘faith’ schools, should be inclusive, balanced, and impartial, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has said in a submission to the Commission on Religious Education.
The Commission was launched in July by the Religious Education Council of England and Wales, of which the BHA is a member, and over the next two years it will ‘review the legal, education and policy frameworks for RE before making recommendations to the Government for the subject’s reform.’
Setting out its view on the main purposes of RE, the BHA’s response states that schools should:
- Enable young people to understand the views and opinions of those whose beliefs and values are different to their own
- Develop a capacity for critical reasoning and balanced enquiry, preparing young people to engage respectfully with those whose views differ from their own
- Help young people to develop informed personal responses to life’s big philosophical and ethical questions
- Support children’s understanding of the cultural heritage of humanity, in conjunction with other subjects such as History, English Literature, Art, Music, and Geography
All of these justifications for teaching RE entail the study of non-religious worldviews like Humanism just as much as they do the study of religions, the BHA argues. Indeed, this was reflected in the landmark decision of the High Court in 2015, which ruled that RE in schools must be ‘critical, objective, and pluralistic’, and that omitting Humanism from the syllabus amounted to a failure to meet that standard.
Importantly, the BHA stresses that all types of school – including religious schools, which are currently allowed to teach biased, faith-based RE – must also be required to deliver the subject in this way. ‘A child’s access to accurate and impartial information about religious and non-religious beliefs and philosophical and moral issues should not be determined by the type of school they have had chosen for them or to which they have been allocated’, the submission states.
In line with this, the BHA also recommends that subject content be set nationally rather than locally. The current system involves 151 different bodies in England responsible for setting RE syllabuses for maintained schools in their respective local authority areas, while academies and free schools are free to set their own. The BHA describes this system as an ‘unnecessarily fragmented one’ in which ‘the quality of syllabuses varies considerably’ and individual children’s learning becomes disjointed and inconsistent during their time at school. These problems would be solved ‘by having one syllabus that applies to all schools and is agreed and regularly reviewed at a national level by experts, with the input of religion and belief representatives as required’, the BHA argues.
BHA Education Campaigner Jay Harman commented, Education about religion and Humanism in schools has been in need of reform for some time, so the Commission is an excellent opportunity for everyone involved in RE to think carefully and collaboratively about the future of the subject.
‘Delivered well, such education can prepare young people for life in our increasingly diverse society, emphasise the importance of thinking deeply and critically about important moral and ethical issues, and allow children to develop their own beliefs whilst understanding and respecting those of others. This is a vision that is shared by the vast majority of teachers, parents, and children, so we will continue to work with the Commission to ensure that its recommendations reflect this when it comes to report on its findings.’
For further comment or information please contact the BHA’s Education Campaigner Jay Harman on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0207 324 3078.
Read the BHA’s full submission to the Commission: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017-01-11-FINAL-BHA-submission-to-the-Commission-on-Religious-Education.pdf
Read the BHA’s pregious news item ‘BHA welcomes launch of Commission on Religious Education’: https://humanism.org.uk/2016/07/08/bha-welcomes-launch-of-commission-on-religious-education/
Read more about the BHA’s work on religious education: 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.
The BHA is a member of the REC.