Following new guidance on the Religious Studies GCSE, published yesterday by the Department for Education (DfE) in the wake of a High Court judgement earlier this year, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association (BHA), Andrew Copson, has made the following statement:
‘The BHA is glad that the DfE seems to have accepted that it stood no chance of winning an appeal against the judgement that its planned new GCSE in religious studies contained “an error of law”, but we are disturbed that the Department has plainly not understood either the basis of the judgement or its implications.
‘The new guidance claims that “Curriculum balance (and, therefore, compliance with statutory requirements) can be achieved across the key stages”. Hidden in this statement is a welcome acceptance that non-religious worldviews such as Humanism must be taught as part of religious education – but Mr Justice Warby specifically rejected as inadequate a “balance” achieved across a pupil’s complete school career. He said: “GCSE is a vitally important stage in the development of a young person’s character and understanding of the world. I do not consider it could be said that a complete or almost total failure to provide information about non-religious beliefs at this stage could be made up for by instruction given at earlier stages.”
‘Far more importantly, the entire judgement was based on the finding that religious education in schools with no religious character must be “neutral, impartial and pluralistic” and so must cover non-religious beliefs. For the Department now to say “The Government considers the judgment to have no broader impact on any aspect of its policy in relation to the RE curriculum” is not only obtuse, it risks leading schools and teachers into breaches of the law. The judgement in fact requires a complete rethinking of RE so as to meet the legal need for a neutrality, an impartiality and a pluralism that embrace non-religious beliefs such as humanism and reflect the fact that half the population – and a greater proportion among young people – is non-religious.
‘The BHA is consulting its lawyers about the Department’s new guidance and will be seeking an early meeting with the DfE. The judgement should have been an opportunity for the Department to sit down and think about the curriculum and how it can be improved in the interests of all children. That it has not only wasted that opportunity but issued guidance that makes the situation worse is a slap in the face not just for the parents who brought this case and won, but also to parents nationwide who want a balanced education for their children.’
For further comment or information, please contact BHA Education Campaigner Jay Harman on firstname.lastname@example.org or on 020 7324 3078 or 07970 393 680.
Read the new guidance in full: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/488477/RS_guidance.pdf
Read the DfE’s accompanying press release: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/faith-groups-back-move-to-protect-religious-education-freedom
Read the full High Court judgement: https://humanists.uk/wp-content/uploads/R-Fox-v-SSfE-2015-EWHC-3404-Admin-251115.pdf
Read the BHA’s analysis of the judgement: http://humanistlife.org.uk/2015/11/26/our-humanism-high-court-win-changes-everything-except-perhaps-the-gcse/
Read the BHA’s previous news item ‘Judge rules Government broke the law in excluding Humanism from school curriculum’: https://humanists.uk/2015/11/25/judge-rules-government-broke-the-law-in-excluding-humanism-from-school-curriculum/
Read the BHA’s briefing on why Humanism is now normally included in Religious Education syllabuses: http://humanismforschools.org.uk/guidance/why-humanism-is-included-in-religious-education-re/
Read more about the BHA’s work on RE: https://humanists.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/school-curriculum/religious-education/
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.