Humanists get seat at RE table in Southampton

21 November, 2022

After a five year campaign, at a meeting today a humanist will be formally admitted as a full voting member of Southampton Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE). A SACRE is the body that advises on collective worship in local schools, and sets up the ‘Agreed Syllabus Conference’ (ASC) to devise the RE syllabus for use in community, voluntary controlled, and foundation schools. There are 151 SACREs in England, and each has four subcommittees representing: the Church of England; other religions, beliefs and denominations (where humanists should sit); teachers; and the local authority. Currently humanists are accepted as full members of 66 SACREs in England.

Humanists UK campaigns for humanists to be fully represented on SACREs, in order to help ensure that non-religious worldviews such as humanism are afforded equal respect in the RE curriculum. Despite such ‘equal respect’ being required by case law, and being a key recommendation of the 2018 Commission on RE’s final report, unfortunately many syllabuses still fail to include humanism on an equal footing with religions.

South Hampshire humanist Mary Wallbank has been involved with Southampton SACRE for five years, but hitherto had been a co-opted member with no voting rights. She said she was ‘delighted’ to be admitted as a full member representing humanist beliefs at long last. In addition to Mary’s position, the SACRE will also create a place for another non-religious representative, in order to better reflect local demographics, where 22% of people said they were non-religious in the 2011 census.

Humanists UK had supported Mary’s application for full membership. This support included preparing a legal challenge to Southampton Council following its original decision to refuse Mary a place. This challenge was paused during the Covid pandemic, but resumed last year when the council decided to look again at its initial decision to refuse membership.

Southampton humanist representative Mary Wallbank said: 

‘I’m delighted. Many of my colleagues on the SACRE were keen for me to join them as a full member, but the local council were adamant that the law would not permit such a thing. So it’s great that they have since reflected on this position and come to realise that yes, the law may indeed allow humanists to sit as a full member of Group A.

‘While I’ve really enjoyed giving a voice to humanism as a co-opted member, I look forward to continuing this work with the added respect of being considered equal as a full member with colleagues from across the faith, and indeed non-faith, communities in Southampton.’

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Robert Cann said: 

‘This is a great move by Southampton Council – it took a while but we got there in the end. The decision accurately reflects case law on RE, which since Mary’s campaign in Southampton began, has now rightfully been put on the statute book in Wales. Namely: non-religious worldviews such as humanism must be afforded equal respect in the RE curriculum, and so it follows that such views must be represented on the bodies that oversee RE locally.

‘The obvious thing to do now is for the Westminster Government to sort out the legal uncertainty in England and make the provision of inclusive RE a statutory requirement. We’ll keep campaigning for that of course – but until then we will continue to push for humanist representation on all SACREs. 66 down; 85 to go!’


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read our article on Southampton Council deciding to retake its decision on humanist representation.

Read our article on Greenwich council backing down after legal challenge to exclusion of humanist from RE body.

Rear our article about how a school will provide RE fully inclusive of humanism following 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.