TAKE ACTION: Live in Wales? You can tell the Welsh Government that objective RE that includes humanism should be available in all schools using our handy online form. Responses must be submitted by 28 July 2020.
Wales Humanists has voiced its support for a Welsh Government plan to introduce a legal right for parents to demand objective religious education that includes humanism in some faith schools, and for this form of the subject to be taught as standard in all other schools.
In response to a consultation on changes to the law on religious education – due to be renamed Religion, Values, and Ethics (RVE) – Wales Humanists said that, ideally, all children, including those in faith schools, should receive RVE lessons which are ‘objective, critical, and pluralistic’. But, in the absence of this, it supports the proposal that parents whose children attend voluntary aided (VA) faith schools will gain the ability to demand an inclusive alternative to the faith-based version of the subject these schools teach.
Wales Humanists also backed a proposed requirement for the bodies responsible for developing and overseeing RVE in all other schools to ‘have regard to’ statutory guidance which says that, in line with human rights law, humanism must be included on an equal footing with religions in the syllabus. Furthermore, schools must pay attention to this syllabus when deciding precisely what they will cover in the classroom.
The proposed changes are particularly important because the Government has already decided it will abolish the parental right to withdraw from religious education when RVE is introduced in 2022. Currently, this right protects the freedom of religion or belief of families whose children attend faith schools but do not share the religion of the school. This situation is particularly prevalent in rural areas, where the only school is often one with a religious character. Previously, Wales Humanists had been concerned that children in these circumstances would be exposed to illegitimate indoctrination that would undermine their human rights. But, the innovative plan will ensure that these children are now able to access a meaningful alternative to faith-based religious instruction when their parents agree.
However, the proposals still don’t adequately protect the rights of children whose parents do want a faith-based version of the subject but who don’t want this themselves. This has prompted Wales Humanists to urge the Government to give older pupils the power to choose inclusive RVE from the point when they select their GCSE options onwards.
Wales Humanists’s consultation response also calls for a change to the law that allows VA faith schools to select all of their teachers on faith grounds, arguing that every school must have a suitable number of teachers who have been selected according to their ability to teach objective RVE rather than their adherence to a particular religion.
Unfortunately, the proposals haven’t received unanimous support from faith groups, and have come under sustained attack from the Catholic Church. This includes via an open letter to the Welsh Government from the head teachers of all the Catholic schools in Wales who have erroneously claimed teaching an inclusive curriculum on demand ‘risks diluting the diversity of provision in Wales’ and ‘will do little to improve community cohesion or foster tolerance of world religions’. They have even argued that the plan goes against parents’ rights despite the fact that parents will be the ones responsible for selecting the alternative provision.
Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham said:
‘For far too long, families have had to endure RE that fails to adequately reflect their own beliefs or, in the context of faith schools, actively seeks to impose a particular religious perspective. Until now, the only alternative offered to protect the freedom of conscience of these families has been the option to opt out of these lessons altogether. However, under this plan, parents will no longer have to choose between indoctrinatory RE and withdrawal, and will be able to ensure that their children do not miss out on this vital aspect of their education simply because of the way it is taught in some schools.
‘What’s more, because the syllabus outside of faith schools will have to treat religions and humanism on an equal footing, these plans will mean a far greater number of pupils than ever before will receive a well-rounded education in the subject. We urge the Welsh Government to push ahead with these welcome changes and make Wales a world leader in inclusive religious education.’
For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 7324 3000 or 07725 110 860.
Read the consultation document
Read our most recent article on why the response of Welsh Catholic schools to RE proposals shows reform is so badly needed.
Read more about our work on RE
Wales Humanists is a part of Humanists UK. Humanists UK is 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 benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.