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Welsh Government to propose scrapping the right to withdraw from RE in faith schools

The Welsh Government today announced it will consult on a range of education reforms, seemingly including parents losing the right to opt their children out of instructional, ‘faith-based RE’, igniting fears of indoctrination in religious schools.

Wales Humanists, which campaigns for inclusive religious education (RE) and relationships and sexuality education (RSE) and has previously provided submissions to the Welsh Government on proposed curriculum reforms, has expressed its alarm at any such proposals, which may well be a breach of human rights.

Other proposed changes include renaming RE to ‘Religions and Worldviews’, which Wales Humanists believes is a positive move toward inclusive teaching; and objective RSE lessons for all children with no parental right to withdraw, which Wales Humanists also welcomes.

“Confessional” RE or religious instruction in faith schools involves instructing students to follow a certain religion, whereas RE outside of faith schools (which Wales Humanists supports) only teaches pupils about religions and humanism in an impartial way. Currently in England and Wales, parents have the right to withdraw their children from all forms of RE but under these proposals, this will stop, raising serious concerns that children from non- or other religious backgrounds attending faith schools will be indoctrinated into religious perspectives against their parents’ wishes.

In mitigation, the consultation paper says ‘ faith schools can teach RE in a way that accords with its faith basis but they must also provide neutral information on other religions and non-religious views as well… We… considered the potential role of right to withdraw in circumstances where there were concerns that teaching and learning was not pluralistic. We concluded that a right to withdraw was not the appropriate mechanism to deal with this and the practice in the particular school should be being addressed.’ It also says ‘The parental rights in the second sentence of Article 2 Protocol 1 will be appropriately respected if the RE… provided does not involve indoctrination and is provided in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner.’ But this doesn’t seem compatible with the fact that faith-based RE is set to continue.

Kathy Riddick commented: ‘We have grave concerns about parents losing their right to withdraw their children from RE in faith schools where they could be subjected to a heavy-handed religious instruction that enforces a particular faith-based perspective. Under human rights law, this constitutes indoctrination and breaches the rights of parents and pupils to freedom of religion or belief. Therefore any such a move is likely to be entirely unlawful.’

NOTES:

For more information contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or 020 7324 3078.

Read the Welsh Government announcement.

Read about the Welsh Government’s move to change the law on RE to include humanism.

Read about Wales Humanists’ response to the previous consultations.

Read more about Wales Humanists’ work on religions and worldviews.

Wales Humanists is a part of Humanists UK, the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefiting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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