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Secretary of State for Education rejects calls for legal reform to RE

Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds MP.

Humanists UK is dismayed to learn that the UK Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds, has said that ‘now is not the time’ to begin the range of reforms to Religious Education (RE) in England that were proposed by the Commission on RE (CoRE)’s final report which was published in September.

In a letter to the Religious Education Council (REC), which provided the secretariat for the Commission, Hinds thanked the Commission for its hard work on the report, Religion and Worldviews: the way forward, and acknowledged the importance of good quality RE in fostering ‘mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs’. However, he claimed that ‘some stakeholders have concerns that making statutory the inclusion of “worldviews” risks diluting the teaching of RE’ and argued that making the reforms the report recommends – which include a change of name to Religion and Worldviews, a National Entitlement to the subject in all state-funded schools, and the implementation of programmes of study which ‘reflect the complex, diverse and plural nature of worldviews’ including humanism – will unnecessarily add to the workload of teachers.

In its response to the letter, the REC said it was disappointed by the Secretary of State’s initial reaction to the report, which ‘fails to grasp the urgent need for reform of Religious Education to better prepare young people for life in modern Britain, the broad consensus in support of the Commission’s recommendations, and the excellent opportunity to strengthen the subject that the Report’s publication represents’.

The REC also pointed out that, while it ‘shares the Secretary of State’s concern not to unduly increase any teacher’s workload, in actual fact, ‘the Commission’s recommendations have widespread support from teachers’ and the report has been welcomed by two major teaching unions (the National Education Union and the National Association of Head Teachers), as well as the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘It is beyond disappointing to hear that the Secretary of State for Education is prepared to dismiss the recommendations of the Commission on RE’s report so easily. These recommendations represent a once in a generation opportunity to save the academically serious teaching of religious and non-religious worldviews in our schools. If the nettle is not grasped, decline will continue and the subject will sink into irrelevance at a time when the need for knowledge and understanding in this field is more acute than ever.’

Commenting specifically on the claim that ‘making statutory the inclusion of “worldviews” risks diluting the teaching of RE’, Mr Copson added, ‘Those religious groups that oppose the addition of humanism to RE must realise that, as the REC points out in its own response to Mr Hinds’ letter, the law is already clear that humanism must be included on an equal basis to the major religions. This was the conclusion of our 2015 judicial review on the matter.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078.

Read the report: https://www.commissiononre.org.uk/final-report-religion-and-worldviews-the-way-forward-a-national-plan-for-re/

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaigns work around religious education: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/school-curriculum/religious-education/

About Humanists UK

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Humanists UK has a long history of work in education, children’s rights and equality, with expertise in the ‘religion or belief’ strand. We provide materials and advice to parents, governors, students, teachers and academics, and school speakers, through our website Understanding Humanism.

We have been involved in policy development around RE for over 60 years. We are a founding member of the RE Council for England and Wales, and our Chief Executive is the Treasurer. This century, Humanists UK has also been represented on the steering groups of every major national initiative focused on reform of RE in England and Wales.

Our support for RE is also reflected by the fact that many standing advisory councils on RE and agreed syllabus conferences 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 humanism. As a result the vast majority of locally agreed syllabuses include humanism to some extent, and many do so to a high level of depth.

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