Northern Ireland Humanists has responded to the Independent Review of Education’s ‘initial request for views’ consultation, setting out its vision for the future of education. It told the panel of its vision for a system in which students from different religion and belief backgrounds are educated together in schools that are equally inclusive of all. It highlighted that the weaknesses in the current system are found primarily in three areas: segregation, compulsory collective worship, and the RE curriculum.
Integrated schools, which aim respectively to have a 40:40:20 split of pupils from Catholic, Protestant, and ‘other’ backgrounds, are a key step on the journey towards full inclusivity. Over 70% of parents already think that schools should be integrated, but this is far from being reflected on the ground: only 6% of primary pupils are currently educated in such settings. Northern Ireland Humanists therefore called for further expansion of integrated schools to meet both current and future demand, including for all new schools to be integrated. It also advocated for the removal of the exemption to equality law that enables schools to employ, remunerate, and promote teachers according to faith.
Meanwhile, most schools require pupils to take part in compulsory Christian worship, and the over 16s do not enjoy the right to withdraw from such worship, as they do in other parts of the UK. Northern Ireland Humanists therefore recommended that the requirement for collective worship in all schools be replaced with fully inclusive assemblies, which do not discriminate and demonstrate respect for children and families from all religion and belief backgrounds.
The third theme of the response highlighted that humanism is entirely absent from the RE curriculum, as is any discussion of the fact that there are people who hold non-religious beliefs. This is because the core Religious Education syllabus taught in grant-aided schools has been developed and is overseen by representatives of the four main Christian churches in Northern Ireland. Hence the response recommended that an RE curriculum is introduced that is objective, critical, and pluralistic, and that RE is brought into the general inspection framework.
Northern Ireland Humanists also encouraged its members and supporters to respond to the consultation.
Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented:
‘For too long, the school system in Northern Ireland has been a driving force in the segregation of our society. It doesn’t have to be this way: schools can help to mitigate bias and prejudice by playing a central role in bringing children together, to foster greater understanding and tolerance of each other.
‘We are pleased to have had this opportunity to set out Northern Ireland Humanists’ vision for a fully inclusive education system. We also intend to meet with the panel soon. And we will make sure that humanist values of tolerance and inclusivity are heard loud and clear at every step.’
For further comment or information, media should contact Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 07918 975795.
Read our response to the Review
Read our report on the first Northern Ireland Catholic school to become integrated
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Northern Ireland Humanists is part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland. 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.