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Scrapping of right to withdraw from RE in faith schools is ‘potentially unlawful’ – Wales Humanists

The Welsh Government has today announced the outcome of its consultation on religious education (RE) and relationships and sexuality education (RSE). In summary:

The right to withdraw from RE is to be scrapped, including in faith schools. Wales Humanists believes this change will lead to pupils being indoctrinated against their or their parents’ wishes and so is potentially in breach of the right to freedom of religion or belief

RE is seemingly to be renamed to ‘Religion, Values and Ethics’. The consultation had previously proposed ‘Religions and Worldviews’. Wales Humanists has welcomed the new name as better than RE, as it doesn’t solely focus on religion, but expressed disappointment that it isn’t as good as what was proposed as it doesn’t explicitly include non-religious worldviews such as humanism in the subject name

The right to withdraw from RSE is also to be scrapped. Wales Humanists has welcomed this reform as ensuring that all pupils receive full, comprehensive, and high-quality education about relationships and sexuality, helping them to be healthy, happy, and safe.

Wales Humanists is particularly concerned about the scrapping of the right to withdraw from RE in faith schools, because such schools will still be able to teach the subject from a faith-based perspective. There is a large body of human rights case law that suggests that scrapping this right will be unlawful – for example, Folgerø v Norway, Zengin v Turkey, and Papageorgiou and Others v Greece – the last of which was only issued during this consultation period.

Commenting on the right to withdraw from RE, Wales Humanists Coordinator Kathy Riddick commented: ‘We are deeply alarmed by the proposal to scrap the right to withdraw from RE in faith schools, which in our view is potentially unlawful. Repeated international case law shows that jurisdictions that do away with the right to withdraw end up being found in breach of the human right to freedom of religion or belief, as it leads to young people being indoctrinated against their or their parents’ wishes. The Welsh Government must urgently think again, or alternatively scrap the ability of faith schools to teach in line with their religion.’

Turning to the RE name change, Ms Riddick continued: ‘The name “Religion, Values and Ethics” is an improvement on “RE”, as it doesn’t solely focus on religion, but it’s a disappointment when compared to the previously proposed name of “Religions and Worldviews”. The proposed name would have made clear that religions and humanism must be treated equally. While such equal treatment is still the intention of the Welsh Government, the new name will no doubt be read by some as implying that all values and ethics are religious. Most people’s values and ethics nowadays are not religious, and it is vital that every young person understands this.’

Finally, on the right to withdraw from RSE, Ms Riddick commented: ‘We welcome the planned scrapping of the right to withdraw from relationships and sexuality education. RSE is simply about teaching facts, and all the best evidence shows that equipping young people with a full, comprehensive, and high-quality curriculum in this area is what leads to the best outcomes, in terms of ensuring they are healthy, happy, and safe.’


For more information contact Wales Humanists Coordinator Kathy Riddick at kathy.riddick@humanism.org.uk or on 07881 625378.

Read the Welsh Government announcement: https://gov.wales/children-wales-will-have-universal-access-full-curriculum

Read more about Wales Humanists’ work on RE: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/school-curriculum/religious-education/

Read more about Wales Humanists’ work on RSE: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/school-curriculum/pshe-and-sex-and-relationships-education/

Read Wales Humanists’ response to the consultation: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019-11-05-KR-consultation-response-form-ensuring-access-to-the-full-curriculum.pdf

Wales Humanists is a part of Humanists UK, the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 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 benefiting 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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