High-quality RE includes teaching about humanism, says new Ofsted report

12 May, 2021

High-quality religious education (RE) includes teaching about a ‘range of religious and non-religious ways of living’, including humanism, a new Ofsted report has said. Humanists UK has welcomed the news, saying it makes it clearer than ever that good RE must include teaching about humanism on an equal footing with world religions.

Published today, the report is part of a series of Ofsted research reviews. It is designed to ‘identify factors that contribute to high-quality school RE curriculums, the teaching of the curriculum, assessment and systems,’ and will be used to inform Ofsted’s view when carrying out inspections of the subject.

The report says that, in RE, ‘pupils enter into a rich discourse about the religious and non-religious traditions that have shaped Great Britain and the world’. RE ‘enables pupils to take their place within a diverse multi-religious and multi-secular society.’ It goes on to say that, ‘at its best’, the subject ‘affords pupils both the opportunity to see the religion and non-religion in the world, and the opportunity to make sense of their own place in that world.’

In a section about how different religious and non-religious worldviews ought to be represented, the report highlights how teaching that plans ‘for pupils to learn about humanism only in relation to atheism’ – that is, simply as a belief about the non-existence of god, rather than a broader worldview – would be deficient, as ‘pupils will not gain wider knowledge of humanism as a way of life.’ It also emphasises the need for teaching about religious and non-religious worldviews to be accurate and allow pupils to look at different perspectives in a rounded way. It points out that teachers ‘sometimes present overly positive portrayals of religion, which may be linked to the desire for pupils to interact positively with members of religious traditions’, but, despite these ‘well-meaning reasons’, are ‘unwarranted and unscholarly.’

The report comes just weeks after the Welsh Senedd passed the Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Act, which, in line with human rights law, makes it explicit that non-religious perspectives must be included in RE and the bodies that oversee it. However, the UK Government has so far failed to take similar action.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham commented:

‘Humanists UK has long campaigned for RE to be fully inclusive of humanism. This hugely welcome report makes it clearer than ever that good provision in this vitally important subject must teach about humanism on an equal footing with world religions.

‘To ensure this vision becomes a reality, Ofsted now needs to monitor the extent to which schools are actually providing their pupils with this kind of broad and balanced curriculum, and press for compliance where this is not the case. And the UK Government should follow the lead of Wales and clarify, in law, that RE must include non-religious worldviews like humanism alongside religious perspectives.’


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham at ruth@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3000 or 0772 511 0860.

Read the full Ofsted report.

Read our most recent article on the Welsh Act that makes the curriculum fully inclusive of humanism.

Read our article on the decision to deny humanists a voice on RE in Southampton to be retaken after legal threat.

Read more about our work on Religious Education.

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.

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