A Bill that will make the Welsh curriculum fully inclusive of humanism has moved one step closer to becoming law, with Senedd members yesterday voting in favour of a Government amendment placing a duty on schools to promote knowledge and understanding of UN Conventions on the rights of children and disabled people, further strengthening the rights-based approach to education in Wales. They also rejected amendments that would have threatened children’s rights in religious education (set to be renamed religion, values, and ethics or RVE) and relationships and sexuality education (RSE). Wales Humanists briefed MSs ahead of the debate, and has today welcomed the votes.
During the stage three debate on the Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Bill, Senedd Members voted against a set of amendments that would have required children in faith schools to be exposed to indoctrinatory denominational lessons without a parental right to withdraw. They also rejected an amendment that would have meant statutory RSE would have to ‘have regard to [the] religious and cultural background’ of pupils.
Wales Humanists Coordinator Kathy Riddick commented:
‘We are thrilled that the Senedd has taken a stand for children’s rights by rejecting the amendments on RSE and RVE, and voting to place a duty on schools to promote knowledge and understanding on the UNCRC. As Education Minister Kirsty Williams said during the debate, inclusive lessons in RSE and RVE show us “children’s rights in action” and the Bill is a real victory in this respect.’
Religion, Values and Ethics
The Bill will make explicit that schools must cover humanism equally to religions in the curriculum, that humanists can sit on the bodies that develop and oversee the syllabus at local authority level, and will rename ‘religious education’ to ‘religion, values, and ethics’ (RVE) to reflect this broader scope. It will also give parents whose children attend voluntary aided faith schools the right to demand objective RVE lessons in line with the agreed syllabus taught in other schools, instead of faith-based lessons.
Two amendments, proposed by Conservative MS Suzy Davies, sought to replace this right with a requirement for faith schools to teach an RVE curriculum that had regard to both denominational and agreed syllabus RVE, with no withdrawal allowed. However, this was rejected, with Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams explaining that ‘tensions’ between denominational RVE and agreed syllabus RVE ‘can’t be resolved’ through the teaching of a single subject. Ahead of the debate, Wales Humanists briefed all MSs pointing out that, because it teaches religion from one faith perspective, it is impossible to provide denominational RVE in the critical, objective, and pluralistic way required by human rights law. Without a right to withdraw, any teaching that tried to combine the two approaches would fail to comply with the prohibition on indoctrination.
Relationships and sexuality education
The Bill also seeks to introduce objective, age and developmentally appropriate RSE to all pupils aged 3-16 and remove the parental right to withdraw children from these lessons. During the debate, Labour MS Lynne Neagle noted strong cross-party approval for this, with the Senedd’s Children, Young People and Education Committee expressing ‘unanimous support’ for the introduction of the subject. She went on to say that ‘RSE is a child’s right’ and plays a fundamental role in keeping children ‘safe from harm’.
A proposed amendment from Conservative MS Darren Millar attempted to introduce a requirement to teach RSE in accordance with the religious and cultural background of pupils. In England, these faith-based exemptions have given rise to protests against LGBT-inclusive lessons by seeming to suggest that parents from certain religious backgrounds could veto that content. More recently, Humanists UK has highlighted the grim reality of faith-based RSE by revealing highly misogynistic content in Catholic RSE resources suggesting women should be ‘receiver-responders’ in sexual relationships. The Senedd rejected the amendment, meaning all students will receive the new RSE curriculum regardless of background.
The Bill will now move to a final stage four vote in the Senedd on 9 March. If passed, it will then be given royal assent and become law.
For further comment or information, please contact Wales Humanists Coordinator Kathy Riddick via firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 07881 625 378.
Read our most recent article on the Bill passing stage one in the Senedd.
Read our article on Wales Humanists giving oral evidence to the Committee.
Read Wales Humanists’ written response to the Committee’s call for evidence.
Read more about Wales Humanists’ work on RE.
Wales Humanists is part of Humanists UK. Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 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.