The Welsh Government has today announced plans to allow parents of children at faith schools to demand fully inclusive, pluralistic religious education instead of a faith-based version of the subject.
Humanists UK – which has long campaigned for non-religious perspectives like humanism to be included on an equal footing with religions on the RE curriculum in all schools – has strongly welcomed the innovative plan, potentially one of the biggest educational reforms in 75 years.
The proposals, which follow a decision to change the law relating to the bodies responsible for writing the curriculum at a local level – called Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education (SACREs) and Agreed Syllabus Conferences (ASCs) – so that it is clear that humanists are permitted to participate, focus on how the subject will be implemented as part of a set of sweeping curriculum reforms to be introduced in 2022.
The Welsh Government has already decided to rename ‘religious education’ (RE) ‘religion, values, and ethics’ (RVE) to acknowledge that, by law, the subject must be ‘objective, critical, and pluralistic’. However, when it announced that it would be removing the parental right to withdraw children from the lessons, including in faith schools, Humanists UK and others (such as eminent lawyer Professor Sir Malcolm Evans) voiced concern that this risked undermining human rights law and threatened freedom of religion or belief.
The new plans propose to address this concern, firstly by making it ‘explicit that any agreed syllabus for RVE must reflect both religious beliefs and also non-religious beliefs’. They will also require that ASCs, SACREs, and local authorities have regard to Government guidance when developing their syllabuses, which must be pluralistic. Under the proposals, community schools (and other schools which don’t have a religious character) will be expected to ‘pay due regard’ to agreed syllabuses for RVE and Voluntary Controlled (VC) schools with a faith character – which are subject to more controls over what they teach than other faith schools – will largely be expected to teach the agreed syllabus (although there may be exceptions if a parent requests this). Voluntary Aided faith schools – which can currently teach according to the tenets of their faith with little restriction – may continue to provide faith-based religious education but ‘where a parent requests RVE in accordance with an agreed syllabus, it must be provided.’ And ‘the schools will have no discretion as to whether to accept this request.’
This means that parents whose children attend faith schools will be able to demand that their children receive inclusive, pluralistic, RVE instead of the faith-based version.
Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:
‘These proposals represent an innovative yet common-sense solution to the potential problems arising from abolishing the parental right to withdraw from religious education. They ensure that, irrespective of the type of school their children attend, parents in Wales will be able to demand they receive the objective, critical, and pluralistic education in religious and non-religious worldviews to which they are entitled. Parental choice has been not just preserved but enhanced.
‘Of course, this means that children attending faith schools whose parents do want them to receive a more partisan form of religious education will be denied the option of receiving RVE in line with an agreed syllabus. For this reason, we would ask that the Welsh Government consider giving older pupils the power to opt themselves in to these lessons if they wish.
‘Nevertheless, we strongly applaud the proposals and strongly urge the governments of the other nations of the UK to pay close attention to them as they could bring about some of the most significant reforms to education policy on religion seen in 75 years.’
For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 7324 3000 or 0772 511 0860.
Read our article on how scrapping the right to withdraw from RE could undermine human rights law
Read our article welcoming the announcement that the new Welsh curriculum will be fully inclusive of humanism.
Read more about Wales Humanists’ work on RE.
Wales Humanists is a part of Humanists UK. Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.