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Humanists UK raises concerns that UK Government could ignore RE curriculum review findings

Humanists UK has raised concerns that the UK Government might be looking to ignore a landmark review that recommended legal reforms to Religious Education (RE) in England despite its comprehensive, well-evidenced, and widely supported recommendations. The review of the Commission on RE recommended changing the law to make explicit that humanism must be taught about to an equal extent as the major world religions.

The final report of the Commission, Religion and Worldviews: the way forward, recommended that the subject of RE be renamed to Religion and Worldviews to make more explicit the need to include humanism equally to the major religions. The review has been a two-year long process and has been touted as potentially the most significant change to religious education in 50 years.

But Humanists UK has raised concerns that this might be at risk after the Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds admitted he had been approached by stakeholders who were concerned that ‘making statutory the inclusion of “worldviews” risked diluting the teaching of RE’. This is in spite of the fact that worldviews must already be included in this way, as a result of case law. In 2015 the Department for Education lost a judicial review on this very matter.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said: ‘It is crucial that the Government takes forward the recommendations of the report and isn’t unduly influenced by some religious groups that oppose an open, pluralistic, and critical approach to the school curriculum.

‘These recommendations represent a once in a generation opportunity to save the academically serious teaching of religious and non-religious worldviews in our schools. If the nettle is not grasped, decline will continue and the subject will sink into irrelevance at a time when the need for knowledge and understanding in this field is more acute than ever.

‘The law is already clear that humanism must be included in the curriculum on an equal basis to the major religions - this was the conclusion of a 2015 judicial review on the matter - so any attempts to ignore this will be greatly challenged.’

At a debate on RE in the House of Lords on Monday, the review was supported by Lord Watson of Invergowrie, Labour’s Shadow Education Minister, the Lord Bishop of Chichester, and two members of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, Baroness Bakewell (Labour) and Lord Taverne (Liberal Democrat), who among other peers, urged the Government to adopt the report’s findings.

Humanists UK briefed peers ahead of the debate, highlighting that 52% of the British population which now identifies as having no religion (a figure rising to 70% amongst those aged 18-24) and that teaching about humanism can only enhance the subject.

In its response to Damian Hinds’s letter, the Religious Education Council said it was disappointed by the Secretary of State’s reaction to the report, which ‘fails to grasp the urgent need for reform of Religious Education to better prepare young people for life in modern Britain, the broad consensus in support of the Commission’s recommendations, and the excellent opportunity to strengthen the subject that the Report’s publication represents’.

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07 393344293.

Read the report:

https://www.commissiononre.org.uk/final-report-religion-and-worldviews-the-way-forward-a-national-plan-for-re/

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaigns work around religious education: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/school-curriculum/religious-education/

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

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