UK primary school
Reading Time: 4 minutes By TR001 (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Reading Time: 4 minutes

I meant to post about this a few weeks back. A two-year report in the Religious Education in the UK has concluded with some interesting recommendations. As The Guardian reports:

Religious education in schools needs a major overhaul to reflect an increasingly diverse world and should include the study of atheism, agnosticism and secularism, a two-year investigation has concluded.

The subject should be renamed Religion and Worldviews to equip young people with respect and empathy for different faiths and viewpoints, says the Commission on Religious Education in a report published on Sunday.

Content “must reflect the complex, diverse and plural nature of worldviews”, drawing from “a range of religious, philosophical, spiritual and other approaches to life, including different traditions within Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism, non-religious worldviews and concepts including humanism, secularism, atheism and agnosticism”….

The study of religion and worldviews provides “insight into the sciences, the arts, literature, history and contemporary local and global social and political issues”. It enables young people to develop greater respect and empathy for others, it adds.

“Learning about worldviews helps young people to deal positively with controversial issues, to manage strongly held differences of belief and to challenge stereotypes. In an increasingly diverse society, understanding religious and non-religious worldviews has never been more essential than it is now.”

The commission proposes a statutory entitlement to the study of Religion and Worldviews, but says schools should be permitted flexibility to tailor content to local circumstances, or in the case of faith schools to provide extra teaching relevant to their creed.

In its final report, published today, the Commission on Religious Education has recommended that the subject of Religious Education in England be renamed to Religion and Worldviews, and be reformed to ensure full inclusion of humanism. The Commission also recommends that a national entitlement (the text of which is included in the report) to the subject be introduced in place of existing legal requirements. Humanists UK has welcomed both recommendations, which are strongly in line with its own position of many decades’ standing.

The report recommends:

  • ‘The name of the subject should be changed to Religion and Worldviews’.
  • ‘The National Entitlement to the study of Religion and Worldviews should become statutory for all publicly funded schools’ – which, for maintained schools, should ‘replace the requirement… to follow their locally agreed syllabus.’ Agreed Syllabus Conferences will no longer be required.
  • For faith schools, ‘a requirement should be introduced to provide Religion and Worldviews in accordance with the National Entitlement; in addition to any faith-based education.
  • The National Entitlement states ‘Programmes of study must reflect the complex, diverse and plural nature of worldviews. They may draw from… non-religious worldviews and concepts including Humanism…’ The National Entitlement should be supported by ‘Non-statutory programmes of study for each of Key Stages 1–4… developed at a national level, at a similar level of detail as those for History and Geography in the National Curriculum.’
  • Standing Advisory Councils on RE should be replaced by Local Advisory Networks for Religion and Worldviews, with the composition of the groups within it changed to, amongst other things, make clear humanists should be included, and remove the privileged place for the CofE.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘These recommendations are a once in a generation opportunity to save the academically serious teaching of religious and non-religious worldviews in our schools. If the nettle is not grasped, decline will continue and the subject will sink into irrelevance at a time when the need for knowledge and understanding in this field is more acute than ever. We need the new national entitlement for all children that this report recommends, we need the inclusion of the full breadth of religions and humanism that it endorses, and we need to proceed with the urgency that it calls for.’

Commenting specifically on the recommendation that humanism be included in the national entitlement, Mr Copson added, ‘Aside from the academic importance of this breadth, it is the case that over a quarter of the population have humanist beliefs and values and more people self-identify as non-religious and humanist than Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, or any of the non-Christian religions. It is vital that young people – over 75% of whom are not religious – learn about an approach to life which may assist their personal development. It is also vital that pupils with religious beliefs learn about the beliefs and values of their non-religious fellow citizens, and vice versa. We look forward to a new national settlement that will realise these necessities.’

Alongside its general welcome, Humanists UK has sounded one note of caution for the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations, calling for greater conceptual clarity about the way ‘non-religious worldviews’ are treated. Mr Copson continued, ‘The identification of atheism, agnosticism, and secularism as non-religious worldviews is disappointing conceptual confusion that we would have hoped the Commission would avoid. All three should of course be studied in the subject in detail, but they are not worldviews. Atheism and agnosticism are simple positions on the existence or otherwise of gods, and they are no more non-religious worldviews than theism is a religion. Secularism is (depending on the academic field) either a political philosophy that can be held by religious and non-religious alike or a sociological description of a certain social approach associated with modernity. EIther way, it is not a non-religious worldview in that way that humanism or nihilism are.’

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A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...

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