Join Donate

New RE syllabuses put Humanism on equal footing to major religions

Religious education curriculums for English and Welsh schools are drawn up at the local authority level, and more and more of these ‘locally agreed syllabuses’ have been adding detailed content on Humanism to sit alongside the content they already have on religions. Research commissioned by the British Humanist Association (BHA) in 2007 found that three-quarters of agreed syllabuses included Humanism, but following on from the publication last year of a new English RE Curriculum Framework, which is as inclusive of non-religious worldviews as it is of religions, the depth of that inclusion has continued to increase. The BHA has welcomed the trend.

Syllabuses that already included Humanism to a great depth include Westminster’s, Brent’s, Dorset’s, Wandsworth’s, Camden’s, Islington’s, South Gloucestershire’s, Hounslow’s, Norfolk’s, and the joint Manchester, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, and Trafford syllabus. New syllabuses produced since the publication of the framework include Ealing’s, Calderdale and Kirklees’, Hammersmith and Fulham’s, Sheffield’s, Newcastle’s, Oldham’s, Cornwall’s, and Richmond-upon-Thames’.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘It is vital that every young person learns about the full range of religious and non-religious worldviews that are common in society today, due to the contribution such learning makes to community cohesion, to building mutual understanding, to cultural, historical and literary knowledge, and to allowing them the opportunity to explore the answers they provide to questions of meaning and purpose, enabling them to forge their own values and personal identities. With an ever-growing proportion of young people having no religion, it is hugely important that such learning includes non-religious worldviews, both so that non-religious pupils have the same opportunities to explore their worldview as their religious peers have to explore theirs, and so that their religious colleagues have a chance to learn about the deeply held beliefs of the non-religious section of society.

‘I am therefore delighted that an ever-increasing number of agreed syllabuses include Humanism, and that more and more young people are having the opportunity to study non-religious worldviews alongside religions.’


For further comment or information, please contact Andrew Copson on 07534 248596.

The British Humanist Association has produced a briefing setting out the reasons why Humanism must be included in Religious Education, but in summary:

  • All the usual contemporary justifications for the subject of RE in the school curriculum – its contribution to social cohesion and mutual understanding, its presentation of a range of answers to questions of meaning and purpose, and its role in the search for personal identity and values – can best be served by including humanist perspectives and non-religious students.
  • Humanism has long been part of Religious Education and the Religious Education Council has long supported this inclusion. Successive Government documents have recommended the inclusion of non-religious worldviews such as humanism, and the 2013 Curriculum Framework is as inclusive of teaching about non-religious worldviews as it is of teaching about religions. This is also reflected in locally agreed syllabuses, the vast majority of which include the teaching of humanism with many having extensive modules dedicated to its study. The REC’s vision is that ‘Every young person experiences a personally inspiring and academically rigorous education in religious and non-religious worldviews’.
  • It is vital that Religious Education remains relevant to young people and with surveys suggesting that between 31% and 65% are not religious, this means including non-religious worldviews. RE struggles to engage these young people when their beliefs are excluded.
  • International agreements all recommend the inclusion of non-religious worldviews alongside religious beliefs and in fact the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief specifically recommended it in her last report on the UK.
  • The BHA has long played an active part in the RE Council including at the Board level and has been involved in the steering groups of all relevant government and quango reviews for the last decade. Almost six out of seven English SACREs now include a humanist.
  • The Independent School Standards require schools to ‘actively promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect, and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.’ Departmental advice recommends that schools meet this standard by using ‘teaching resources from a wide variety of sources to help pupils understand a range of faiths, and beliefs such as atheism and humanism.’

The BHA has been involved in policy development around RE for over 60 years. It is a founding member of the RE Council for England and Wales, and our Chief Executive has been a Trustee of that organisation since 2006. In recent years, the BHA has also been on the Department for Education steering groups which developed the 2004 non-statutory national framework (to which we gave our named support); the non-statutory programmes of study and attainment targets for key stages 3-5 in 2007; the abandoned level descriptions and key stage 1/2 non-statutory programme of learning in 2010; and the 2010 non-statutory guidance, and on the steering group of the 2013 RE Subject Review. Andrew has also sat on similar bodies with Ofsted, Ofqual and the QCDA. We helped to develop Ofsted’s guidance on spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.

We provide materials and advice to parents, governors, students, teachers and academics, for example through and our school volunteers programme. We have made detailed responses to all recent reviews of the school curriculum, and submit memoranda of evidence to parliamentary select committees on a range of education issues.

Our support for RE is also reflected by the fact that many standing advisory councils on RE (SACREs) have had humanist representatives for a long time now, including as Chairs and Vice-Chairs of both SACREs and agreed syllabus conferences (ASCs). Recent years have seen a large rise in the number of humanists who are on SACREs, as documents such as the 2013 national framework, programmes of study and RE guidance have referred to teaching about non-religious beliefs such as humanism. Almost six out of seven English SACREs now have a humanist.

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.

Search Humanists UK