New RE subject framework makes clear: schools should put non-religious beliefs on equal footing

23 October, 2013

Following on from a two-year review the Religious Education Council for England and Wales (REC) has today published a new subject framework for Religious Education (RE), which, for the first time, puts non-religious worldviews such as Humanism on an equal footing in terms of curriculum time with religious beliefs. The document, which contains 100 references to teaching about non-religious worldviews, has been welcomed by the BHA for underlining the need to teach about the biggest or second biggest category of beliefs amongst young people.

In his foreword for the document, Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove has written, ‘All children need to acquire core knowledge and understanding of the beliefs and practices of the religions and worldviews which not only shape their history and culture but which guide their own development… This RE curriculum framework and the RE Review of which it is part provides for such a model. It has the endorsement of a very wide range of professional organisations and bodies representing faiths and other worldviews. I hope the document will be useful to all those seeking to provide RE of the highest quality for young people in our schools.’

The document goes on to explain that ‘The phrase ‘religions and worldviews’ is used in this document to refer to Christianity, other principal religions represented in Britain, smaller religious communities and non-religious worldviews such as Humanism. The phrase is meant to be inclusive’. It also says that ‘The curriculum for RE aims to ensure that all pupils: A. Know about and understand a range of religions and worldviews; B. Express ideas and insights about the nature, significance and impact of religions and worldviews; C. Gain and deploy the skills needed to engage seriously with religions and worldviews’.

It also suggests that ‘Some schools with a religious character will prioritise learning about and from one religion, but all types of school need to recognise the diversity of the UK and the importance of learning about its religions and worldviews’ and ‘What is important is that the RE curriculum used in all schools enables young people to develop an informed understanding of religions and worldviews. Schools with a religious designation have an important role to play alongside schools without such a designation in this common goal.’ – suggesting even ‘faith’ schools should teach about non-religious beliefs.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson, who was on the steering group for the review, commented, ‘Government surveys have suggested that a majority or perhaps even two-thirds of young people today are not religious, so for religious education to remain relevant it is vital that this large group’s beliefs are taught about alongside those of their religious peers. For years now we have been making gradual progress towards the acceptance of the teaching of non-religious worldviews in RE, with the 2004 national framework including Humanism in national guidance for the first time. Today’s framework replaces that document and is itself a further milestone in inclusiveness.

‘We also welcome the document’s call for a national debate on the “settlement” of RE. We are concerned that the current system of agreeing syllabuses at a local level leads to too much variability in quality and think that the subject would be on firmer footing if it were placed on the national curriculum alongside all other subjects that have to be taught.’


For further comment or information, please contact Andrew Copson on 07855 380 633.

Read the RE Council’s RE Review report, including the new subject framework:

Read more about the BHA’s work on RE:

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 has a long history of work in education, children’s rights and equality, with expertise in the ‘religion or belief’ strand. It has been involved in policy development around RE for over 60 years and was a founder member of the REC in 1972. The BHA also provides materials and advice to parents, governors, students, teachers and academics, for example through and our school volunteers programme. Its Chief Executive is a Trustee of the REC.

BHA members locally are involved in about four-fifths of the Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education (SACREs) in England and Wales, either as full members, co-opted members or observers. The BHA oversees and maintains the network of humanist representatives on SACREs.