BHA calls for inclusion of Humanism in responses to consultations on GCSE, AS and A level religious studies

5 January, 2015

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has responded to consultations organised by the Department for Education (DfE) and Ofqual on subject content and assessment objectives for new GCSE, AS and A level religious studies qualifications to be taught in English schools. In its responses, the BHA has called for it to be possible to systematically study a non-religious worldview, and for content on Humanism to be introduced at GCSE level to sit alongside annexes on the six principal religions. This position has been supported in an open letter by some 113 leading philosophers, RE academics, consultants, advisors and teachers, and children’s authors, and a similar position has been taken in the responses of the Religious Education Council for England and Wales (REC) and the National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE).

Working with teachers, philosophers and RE experts, the BHA has produced an annex on Humanism to sit alongside the existing annexes on the principal religions. This was initially produced prior to the launch of the DfE’s public consultation, but after the public consultation launched the BHA held its own parallel consultation with relevant experts on what the content of the annex should look like. Following on from this and a request by the DfE for the BHA to provide ‘sources’ for the ideas contained within, a revised, more rigorous and fully sourced version was submitted at the end of the month.

In its response to the DfE’s consultation, the BHA has called for the subject content to be amended to ensure that the language used is inclusive of non-religious worldviews throughout, as is the case in the 2013 RE curriculum framework for key stages 1-3. It should be possible to systematically study a non-religious worldview at both GCSE and A level (but not to study non-religious worldviews for the whole qualification, just as it shouldn’t be possible to study just one religion), and content on Humanism should be added.

In its response to Ofqual’s consultation, the BHA has expressed alarm at the uninclusive nature of the proposed assessment objectives. While the subject content might allow for some degree of thematic study of non-religious worldviews (albeit nowhere near enough), the assessment objectives seem to almost entirely preclude even this.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘All the contemporary justifications for teaching about religions in schools logically also apply to teaching about non-religious worldviews, and this fact has been widely recognised by subject professionals. It is reflected in both the RE framework for key stages 1-3 and an ever increasing number of locally agreed syllabuses, with little controversy generated by any of this. And it mirrors the fact that a growing proportion of students are not religious, and it is vital that these students do not feel marginalised by the subject. So why are we seeing opposition to inclusion now? We urge the Government to think again.’


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

Read the DfE’s consultation:

Read the BHA’s response:

Read Ofqual’s consultation:

Read the BHA’s response:

Read the annex on Humanism:

Read the BHA’s consultation on what the annex should look like:

Read the open letter to Minister of State for School Reform, Nick Gibb MP, calling for Humanism to be included:

Read the previous BHA news item, ‘Option to study humanism excluded from new GCSE and A level criteria; academics, teachers, parents call on Government to reconsider’:

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. 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 and a comparative level of inclusion as with the principal religions. 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) and agreed syllabus conferences (ASCs) have had humanist representatives (in some cases for decades), including as Chairs and Vice-Chairs.  Recent years have seen a rise in the number of humanists who are on SACREs, as documents such as the 2010 RE guidance and 2013 national framework have referred to teaching about non-religious beliefs such as Humanism. As a result almost six out of seven English SACREs now have a humanist representative, the vast majority of locally agreed syllabuses include Humanism to some extent, and many do so to a high level of depth.

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.