"Humanism in schools and living with difference" was the
subject of Harrow Humanists monthly meeting in January 2016 in which
we were joined by a Religious Education teacher from one of the local
The main issues seem to be:
1. Should RE be on the national curriculum, on a par with other humanities
2. Should RE be renamed to include general ethics, philosophy, beliefs
3. Should GCSE include non-religious component and de-emphasise Christianity.
4. Should 'Collective Worship' be abolished.
5. There is a need to educate for a greater pluralistic understanding
6. Should there be 'opt-outs' for RE and 'Collective Worship'.
7. No religious instruction to be allowed during the school
There have been a number of independent reports relating to these issues
published in 2015:
- "A New Settlement: Religion and Belief in Schools" Linda
Woodhead and Charles Clarke
- "The Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life"
Chair: Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Schloss
- "RE for real - The Future of Teaching and Learning about Religion
and Belief" (a project within the Goldsmiths Religious Literacy
- "Collective Worship and Religious Observance in schools"
Arts and Humanities Research Council
It was agreed that the regulations governing both the teaching of RE
in schools and the assembly for an "act of collective worship"
are hopelessly out of date and not fit for purpose in 21st century Britain.
An act of collective worship which is of a mainly Christian character
is no longer appropriate in today's multiethnic and variably religious
population and it should be abolished. In practice it has already largely
been replaced in many schools by a non-denominational time for reflection
on various moral and ethical issues. With such an inclusive type of
assembly there would be no need for pupils to have a right of withdrawal.
The term Religious Education is too narrow to encompass the greater
literacy and pluralistic understanding of both religious and other beliefs
needed in today's society and it should be replaced by Philosophy, Religion
and Ethics (or some similarly inclusive terminology). The current timetable
allocation of one hour a week is inadequate to enable the encouragement
of a questioning and analytical attitude and proper discussion of the
history and current status of the various religious and non-religious
beliefs such as Humanism (which should also be included in the GCSE
It is absurd that RE is the only subject mandatory for all children
to study but which is taught according to locally agreed curricula of
a variable standard. It should have similar status to other "Humanities"
and a National Curriculum which is taught in all types of schools which
receive state funding, including so-called faith schools, but with a
degree of flexibility to suit particular local circumstances. It is
inappropriate for there to be any instruction in, or proselytising for,
particular religions during the school day so that the right of withdrawal
from RE (Philosophy and Ethics) lessons should become unnecessary.