Major Government report calls for RE curriculum reform

12 May, 2023

The UK Government-appointed independent review into religion, the Bloom Review, has called for action to reform religious education (RE) in England. The report’s author made clear in subsequent statements that in his view, high-quality RE must include humanism.

Humanists UK, which campaigns for inclusive RE, welcomed the recommendations, and cautioned again that any future legislative reforms in England should guarantee that the subject becomes fully inclusive of humanism and is taught in an objective, critical, and pluralistic manner. This would mirror recent progress in Wales and reflect the consensus of experts in the RE teaching community.

The law on RE in England: what’s the problem?

Currently, RE syllabus content in England is not set nationally, despite being a compulsory subject. Syllabuses are devised individually at local authority level, or in the case of Academies can be devised by the school themselves. While there are some examples of inclusive syllabuses, they are not widespread. When taught well, with a curriculum that is fully inclusive of non-religious worldviews such as humanism, RE is a vital tool for promoting mutual understanding and challenging prejudice in modern Britain. However, without a coherent national framework for RE, the narrowly focused RE often on offer can be worse than no RE at all: young people will question the relevance of the subject to their day to day lives.

This crisis is highlighted by Colin Bloom’s call for evidence which found that 63% of those surveyed disagreed with the statement: ‘Do you believe that RE is comprehensive enough within the English education curriculum to provide a good understanding of different faiths and beliefs?’

The report goes on to explain that the subject is poorly taught, is dropping in popularity, and is inconsistent. The latter point is partly due to the fragmented nature of the way syllabuses are drawn up, which can differ markedly even within one local authority area due to Academies, as well as voluntary aided faith schools, not being required to follow the locally agreed syllabus set by the Standing Advisory Council on RE (SACRE).

Author of the report Colin Bloom recommended that:

‘Government should look again at why religious education (RE) in schools has become the “Cinderella subject” and should consider methods for improving the teaching of faith literacy and RE, with a view to cultivating a more inclusive society where people of all backgrounds are able to engage in debate about the different faiths and beliefs that shape society. Possible solutions could include the introduction of minimum standards regarding timetabling and resourcing to bring RE alongside other humanities subjects which would then be centrally inspected by Ofsted, the introduction of religious studies GCSE into the English Baccalaureate, or even outreach programmes to university graduates of theology and religious studies to ensure higher levels of faith literacy among RE teachers. (Recommendation 7).

At a briefing with the Religion Media Centre (at 48:20), Colin Bloom proactively clarified the above recommendation by saying that in his view RE should fully include humanism.

This view is also in line with Baroness Burt’s private member’s bill on RE, currently in the House of Lords awaiting committee stage.

Overdue for reform

Updating RE to include humanism  has become pressing not least because two thirds of young adults, and over 50 per cent of the population as a whole, have told the British Social Attitudes Survey they belong to no religion. Around half of these have humanist beliefs and values. Furthermore, human rights case law, most recently in Northern Ireland, has established that RE breaches the human rights of the non-religious if it fails to give equal respect to non-religious worldviews. Unfortunately many syllabuses still fail to provide this equal respect, and parents end up having to take – and win – legal action. Legal clarity through a change in the statute law is therefore now essential.

Recently the Welsh Government legislated to make RE fully inclusive of religious and non-religious philosophical convictions through the Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Act 2021.

Adding even more weight to recent calls for RE reform is England’s Children’s Commissioner, Rachel de Souza. She stated last week at the 50th anniversary of the RE Council (of which Humanists UK has been a member since the 1970s) that: ‘RE provides children with a chance to understand more about the world, other cultures and religions, and also about themselves. RE helps us understand the different faiths and communities which make up modern Britain, and, crucially, RE is a place where these young people can discuss important and exciting philosophical, religious and moral conundrums in safe spaces.’

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Robert Cann said:

‘It is good to see that Colin Bloom’s report recognises the need for RE reform, and that he personally feels the subject must include non-religious worldviews like humanism. We have been calling for the subject to be revamped in this way for many years. It’s no secret that the subject is declining in popularity among young people – the majority of whom are now non-religious. With the Children’s Commissioner now also calling for reform, momentum is building for change.

‘To keep pace with changing society it’s time the Government heeds these calls to reform the subject, and make it absolutely clear that RE must include non-religious worldviews, and that it be taught in a critical, objective, and pluralistic manner in all schools.’


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Public Affairs Manager Karen Wright at or phone 07534 248 596.

Read more about our work on religious education.

Read Colin Bloom’s report, Does government do God?

Read our main article about the Bloom review.

Read our article about Baroness Burt’s private member’s bill to reform RE.

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.