Saturday, November 10, 2007

‘secular worldviews such as Humanism’ in school RE is not being effectively implemented

reposted from:
Chris Street comments are in bright green; highlights in blockquotes (yellow).

New research published today has suggested that Government policy on including ‘secular worldviews such as Humanism’ in school RE is not being effectively implemented. The British Humanist Association, which commissioned the research, has expressed its disappointment with the findings, and called for Government action and legislative change to address this failure.

In 2004, the non-statutory National Framework for RE (NFRE), published by the then DfES and the QCA
recommended that RE syllabuses include the study of secular worldviews such as Humanism’ at every Key Stage.
Today’s research, conducted by Dr Jacqueline Watson of the School of Education at the University of East Anglia, examined 80 local authority syllabuses for Religious Education to see how the 2004 QCA and DfES recommendation has been implemented.

62 of the 80 local authorities surveyed had included ‘secular worldviews such as Humanism’ in their local syllabus, in some form. But of these, only nine had included Humanism extensively, including four where Humanism was compulsory at some key stages. Humanism had an explicit but weaker, and often tokenistic, presence in 28 of the 62 syllabuses, and more general secular worldviews were referred to in a further 25.

In her conclusions, Dr Watson observed that, ‘There appears to be an incremental increase in inclusion over time and the NFRE is having some effect in raising awareness of Humanism. However, there continues to be much room for dispute and discussion about whether syllabuses have sufficiently included Humanism even where they appear to.’

The British Humanist Association (BHA) expressed disappointment at the findings. BHA education officer Andrew Copson commented,
‘Although the report shows that more than three quarters of the syllabuses surveyed have included Humanism, inclusion seems to have generally been at a very low level. This is disappointing, especially since the eighty local authorities surveyed in the research are those which include humanist representatives, and are therefore more likely than others to include Humanism. We are probably looking at the best there is out there and it is not very good.

‘The inclusion of Humanism in RE is widely recognised as having great educational benefits, not least because so many young people themselves are from non-religious backgrounds and have developing values which are not religious. School RE is failing those pupils and neglecting a worldview worthy of study if it fails to include learning about Humanism.’


Today’s report makes several recommendations, which have been accepted by the BHA and which the BHA is now calling on the DCSF to implement, the most significant of which are that
the Government should withdraw current discriminatory guidance (circular 1/94) which prevents humanist representatives from being full members of SACREs and should also seek legislative change to establish a statutory national syllabus for RE.

Mr Copson commented, ‘Together with the recent Ofsted report on RE, today’s findings add to the case that Religious Education needs a national curriculum. Non-statutory guidance, while it seems to be having a limited effect which is beneficial, is not sufficient to improve the subject overall.’

For further comment or with any enquiries, contact Andrew Copson by email or by telephone on 020 7079 3584 or 07855 380633

Notes to Editors

The full report, with executive summary, can be read here

The British Humanist Association (BHA) represents and supports the non-religious and campaigns for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief. It is the largest organisation in the UK working for a secular society. In RE – a field in which the BHA has been active for many decades - this means education about beliefs and values that is broad, objective and balanced.

There is widespread support for including Humanism in RE. See here

Religious Education is not a subject on the national curriculum and so there is no national syllabus for the subject. Instead, each local authority has its own syllabus, drawn up by an Agreed Syllabus Conference (ASC) and overseen by a Standing Advisory Council on RE (SACRE).

Circular 1/94, Government guidance issued in 1994, bans humanist representatives from full membership of SACREs and ASCs, though almost half of SACREs have humanists as either co-opted or observer members.

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