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Schools and education

Humanists UK has always been heavily involved in education, and in addition to our education policy work and our work in providing education resources, our education campaigns – from state-funded faith schools to the school curriculum – are a major part of our campaigning work as a whole.

Schools are where many people – parents, children and teachers – first encounter religion and religious privilege; school-related requests for help, advice and guidance constitute the largest single category of requests that Humanists UK receives from the public. We have campaigned and lobbied for over a century for the rights and interests of humanists and other non-religious people in education, for non-religious beliefs to be respected in schools, and for a genuinely inclusive school system where all pupils are educated together, not separately according to the beliefs of their parents, and will receive a rounded and broad education.

We have a dedicated campaigns officer for our faith schools and education campaigns – the only full-time campaigns officer on these issues. This campaigner is Ruth Wareham.

In depth

We are interested in education for three reasons:

  • we aim for the UK to be secular state with no privilege or discrimination on grounds of religion or belief. The continuing religious discrimination in our state school system is therefore a concern for us
  • we aim for Humanism to be better understood as an ethical and fulfilling non-religious approach to life and so we have an interest in ensuring that it features on the school curriculum on equal terms with religions
  • humanists see education as a vital process and have been rich contributors to both the philosophy and practice of education

We have an interest in promoting better education that will meet these aspirations because we promote humanist perspectives in public debate and policy.

We concentrate on laws and policies that are discriminatory and violate principles of human rights or equality in state-funded schools or on matters where we have a distinctive humanist view. For example we work for:

Some of the issues we work on are specific to state-funded religious schools (popularly known as faith schools in England and Wales and denominational schools in Scotland and Northern Ireland) while others apply to education generally but are exacerbated in faith schools. Because of this, we also work generally for an end to the expansion of faith schools and the transformation of those that already exist into inclusive schools which serve the whole community.

What we’re doing

We work closely with parliamentarians and other key decision makers. At the moment, we are working on the Welsh Government’s review of the National Curriculum and recently worked on the UK Government’s reviews of the National Curriculumof Personal, Social, Health and Economic education and of GCSE and A level Religious Studies, and on the Religious Education Council for England and Wales’s RE Subject Review.

We have also been campaigning hard to make faith schools more inclusive. For example, in November 2012 we took a judicial review of the decision to open two highly discriminatory Catholic schools in Richmond-upon-Thames. In July 2012, we triggered a European Commission investigation into employment laws for UK faith schools. In January 2013, we won an Information Tribunal case against the UK Government over its refusal to publish a list of the names, locations and religions of groups applying to set up Free Schools. And since June 2013 we have been a member of the steering group of the Fair Admissions Campaign, which has published a groundbreaking new map of how religiously and socio-economically inclusive every English secondary school is.

Our ‘Teach evolution, not creationism’ campaign has also had a string of victories, including evolution being added to the new primary National Curriculum in England, the fact that Free Schools now have to teach evolution, and the fact that state schools are banned from teaching pseudoscience such as creationism.

In 2014 we were heavily involved in the so-called ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal in Birmingham, facilitating the initial whistleblowers at Park View School, the school at the centre of the scandal, in raising their concerns and speaking out. The outcome had a sizeable impact on the place of religion in education, with new rules introduced in order to prevent the issues from re-occurring.

We are also a founding member of the Accord Coalition – a wide coalition of organisations working for reform of state funded schools to make them more inclusive in matters of religion or belief. Accord brings together religious and non-religious supporters of change as well as teaching unions, human rights organisations and high profile individuals.

Get involved

You could research and take up one of these issues with your MP and/or local authority, or write to a newspaper. Our Take Action Toolkit has advice on how to go about this, while the Education section of this website has background and supporting arguments, in our summary of Humanists UK education policy.

If there is anything in these pages that you need more information or advice on, please contact our Faith Schools Campaigner on 020 7324 3078.

You can also support Humanists UK by becoming a member. That helps in itself, and you can help even more by supporting our campaigns in the ways suggested above. But campaigns also cost money – quite a lot of money – and we also need financial support. You can make a donation to Humanists UK.

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