Sunday, September 21, 2008

Humanists take legal action on GCSE exclusion

source: BHA

The British Humanist Association has issued legal proceedings against the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) over their decision not to allow the study of Humanism in a Religious Studies GCSE in the same way as religions are studied.

The exam board OCR had included Humanism alongside religions in its proposed GCSE in Religious Studies, announced in April 2008, but a decision by the QCA has meant that it could not be included.

Andrew Copson, BHA Director of Education expressed the BHA’s frustration at this decision: 'The stance of QCA will be a great disappointment to the many teachers, parents and pupils who were as pleased as we were when OCR included the option of Humanism in their GCSE. The study of Humanism alongside religions as an example of a non-religious worldview is recommended by the Government and QCA's own National Framework for RE. Its inclusion contributes to making the study of RE more meaningful for the vast majority of young people who are not religious, and also introduces invaluable perspectives on the big questions of life from which all pupils benefit.’

Humanism has been included in RE to a greater or lesser extent for over thirty years and Humanists warmly welcomed the 2004 National Framework for Religious Education, produced by QCA and by the then Department for Education and Skills (DfES), which recommended that all pupils study Humanism as an example of a ‘secular philosophy’ or ‘secular world view’, as well as guidance on RE in the new secondary National Curriculum in 2007 that included Humanism.

The progress that this represents now seems threatened, as GCSE criteria are only revised every five years. The BHA hopes that, by going to court now, they may be able to overturn the exclusion of Humanism before then.

Mr Copson emphasised that the BHA had tried very hard to persuade the QCA that their decision was wrong but that lobbying efforts had not led to any change in the QCA;s view. He continued, ‘We have now issued legal proceedings against the QCA's decision, as we believe that it is unlawful - contrary to their own subject criteria and to human rights law. It threatens to turn back the progress of recent decades towards a more inclusive, educationally valid and objective subject of RE and is a real kick in the teeth for all who have worked for that progress.'

Richard Stein of solicitors Leigh Day and Co, who has been instructed by the BHA in their action against the QCA emphasised how the case was about equal treatment, saying ’We hope that this case will ensure that the discriminatory – and shocking – decision taken by the QCA, which refuses to recognise the equality of religions alongside other beliefs, is overturned without delay.’

Prominent British humanists have added their support to the BHA’s initiative, such as popular author and professor of philosophy A C Grayling who said, 'The Humanist tradition is a rich and important subject of study and children deserve the opportunity to engage with it as part of their schooling. If schools are teaching about religious views they must also teach about humanist ones, and all moves towards a more widespread acceptance of this should be welcomed, not opposed.'

Writer, broadcaster, agony aunt and BHA Vice President Clare Rayner said, ‘Children must be given the opportunity to learn about Humanism as a belief system as well as about religions as belief systems. Although Humanists have made great progress in the last few years to improve Religious Education in this way, there is still a lot of prejudice against our full inclusion and is sad to see it surfacing here again. The humanist view of things is positive and offers much to a properly rounded education about modern beliefs and values.'

Popular children’s author Philip Pullman said, ‘I’m saddened but not surprised to see that Humanism has been excluded from the syllabus of GCSE Religious Studies. Saddened, because it means that children are now less likely to encounter a way of thinking about the great questions of life that doesn’t depend on the supernatural; but not surprised, because the public knee still makes an automatic genuflection towards “faith” however it manifests itself. What next? A Section 28-style law that actually forbids teachers to discuss Humanism? Don’t bet against it.’

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