British Humanist Association "One Cheer for multi-faith RE in faith schools"
The British Humanist Association cautiously welcomed the announcement today that faith schools are to follow the non-statutory National Framework on Religious Education and teach about “all the major religions” in RE.
The BHA has repeated called for RE in faith schools to be brought into line with the pluralist approach of the National Framework and RE in community schools, but regards this statement from religious leaders as only a first small step towards ensuring this.
BHA concerns include :
§ that the National Framework is only guidance, and can be ignored, not only by faith schools but by those who create local RE syllabuses;
§ that statements from religious leaders may have limited effects in their state-funded faith schools. Some Church of England schools, for example, have stated firmly that they will ignore C of E guidance on admissions;
§ that the joint statement from religious leaders makes no commitment to teach about secular world views such as humanism, as recommended in the National Framework for RE;
§ that there is no guarantee than faith schools will teach about other religions and beliefs in a fair and balanced way – indeed it may not be possible. What will committed Jewish teachers in a Jewish environment teach about Islam, and vice-versa? Can religiously committed teachers in faith schools teach about Humanism impartially? It is certainly the experience of some of our members and supporters that they do so now.
What is religious education for?
Ruth Kelly, religious leaders and many RE professionals claim that religious education:
§ promotes inclusion and tolerance,
§ enriches pupils’ understanding of the world,
§ enriches pupils’ understanding of their own values and beliefs,
§ enables pupils to develop respect for others,
§ and combats prejudice.
The BHA supports these aims, but believes that to achieve them RE must include the non-religious majority and their beliefs.
“The good work going on in schools and beyond to improve inter-faith relations cannot really promote inclusion and tolerance if atheists, agnostics and humanists are regularly left out of the debate. Mutual understanding between the religions is better than nothing, but it is not enough,” says Andrew Copson , Education Officer of the BHA.
“Perhaps it is time to think about bringing a broad and balanced religion and beliefs education into the national curriculum, where it would be unavoidable and inspected.”
Notes for editors :
The non-statutory National Framework for RE can be read at:
It is guidance only, and RE is managed locally by Standing Advisory Councils on RE, which may choose to ignore it. There are 150 + slightly different RE syllabuses in England. SACRE.