In a comprehensive report into the state of children’s rights in England, a coalition of charities and NGOs has called on the Government to ‘put children at the centre of decision-making’ including through making personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education and sex and relationships education (SRE) statutory, a reduction in the degree to which ‘faith’ schools can religiously select in admissions, and the inclusion of non-religious worldviews in RE. The report, organised by the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE), assesses the way in which the rights of children have been impacted upon by government policy in a range of areas, including education, welfare, disability, health, civil rights and violence and abuse. The British Humanist Association (BHA), which was part of the working group responsible for the education section of the report, has welcomed its recommendations.
In 2016 the Government will be examined by the UN on its compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), having submitted its own response to the periodic review last year. As part of the process, the UN invites civil society to produce an alternative report, which seeks to provide additional evidence in order to inform the assessment of the UK.
In total the report makes 172 recommendations, the following of which reflect long-standing BHA policies:
- On the UNCRC itself, the report recommends that the convention be fully incorporated into UK law ‘at the earliest possibility’.
- On SRE, the report states that ‘There is an urgent need for schools to provide sex education on wider issues around relationships and respect between the genders’. It recommends that PSHE ‘should be given statutory status, securing for all pupils a legal entitlement to health education, to strengthen the quality of provision. This should cover statutory sex and relationships education, and should be inclusive (for example covering same-sex families and health and relationships issues for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people with no opt outs for ‘faith’ schools and Academies and no rights of withdrawal for parents’. It also recommends that ‘All teachers should be trained to tackle bullying, including cyberbullying, and should be able to support specific victimisation of certain groups, such as disabled children, including those with SEN and LGBT young people.’
- On religious selection in schools, the report highlights that ‘16% of places at state schools are allocated on the basis of religion (Where places at a school are oversubscribed and allocated according to‘tiebreak’ criteria), despite evidence that religious selection criteria may lead to discriminatory selection of pupils and curtail children’s ability to make their own choices over religious beliefs.’ It specifically references research conducted by the Fair Admissions Campaign (of which the BHA is a founding member) into the ethnic and socio-economic segregation caused by faith-based admissions. The report recommends that ‘the degree to which state schools can religiously select should be gradually reduced.’
- On RE, the report warns that ‘There is some emerging evidence of narrow or religiously-based curricula being taught in some places’ and expresses concern at ‘religious proselytization, unequal treatment and gender segregation’ in schools. It recommends that ‘All children should have the right to access a broad religious studies curriculum, including a non-religious world-view’.
Commenting on the publication of the report, BHA Campaigns Manager Richy Thompson said: ‘It’s enormously encouraging to see so many of our policies reflected in the recommendations of this report, especially given the diversity of organisations that have signed up to it. The renewed call for statutory and fully LGBT-inclusive PSHE is particularly welcome, as is the recognition that religious selection in schools needs to be reduced and the recommendation that RE should be inclusive of non-religious worldviews. It’s high time the UNCRC was fully incorporated into UK law and we hope the Government will take heed of the recommendations made in this report.’
For further comment or information, please contact BHA Education Campaigner Jay Harman at email@example.com or on 020 7324 3078.
Read the full report to the UN Committee: http://www.crae.org.uk/media/78665/crae_civil_society_report_to_un_web.pdf
Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on:
- PSHE and Sex and Relationships Education: https://humanists.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/school-curriculum/pshe-and-sex-and-relationships-education/
- RE: https://humanists.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/school-curriculum/religious-education/
- ‘Faith’ schools: http://humanists.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/faith-schools/
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.