The Derbyshire Agreed Syllabus for Religious Education
The Derbyshire Agreed Syllabus, 2014-2019, outlines the syllabus for RE which must be taught in all Community and Voluntary Controlled schools in Derbyshire. Voluntary Aided, Free schools and Academies may set their own RE syllabus, but often follow the Agreed Syllabus.
The Agreed Syllabus allows for the inclusion of non-religious world views or beliefs such as Humanism in the notes to Section 2.2 Breadth of Study: which religions and beliefs and when. Units allow for a secular world-view where appropriate, and note that schools should take into account pupils viewpoints, beliefs and ideas, as “Many pupils will come from backgrounds with no particular religious belief or affiliation… Exploring atheistic and agnostic responses to human experience is a valuable part of RE.”
The Agreed Syllabus notes that the 2011 census shows nearly a third of people in Derbyshire have no religion, consistent with the national figure. The British Social Attitudes survey of 2015 puts this figure at 48% for the UK.
The Aims and Purpose of RE
The Agreed Syllabus states the aims and purpose of RE as follows:
The Principal aim of RE in Derbyshire schools is to enable pupils to participate in an on-going search for wisdom, through exploring questions raised by human experience and answers offered by the religions and beliefs of the people of Derbyshire and the wider community, so as to promote their personal development.
RE enables pupils to achieve this Principal Aim because it:
- provokes challenging questions about the ultimate meaning and purpose of life, beliefs about God, the self and the nature of reality, issues of right and wrong and what it means to be human.
- develops pupils’ knowledge and understanding of Christianity, other principal religions, other religious traditions and other world views that offer answers to questions such as these.
- offers opportunities for personal reflection and spiritual development.
- enhances pupils’ awareness and understanding of religions and beliefs, teachings, practices and forms of expression, as well as of the influence of religion on individuals, families, communities and cultures.
- encourages pupils to learn from different religions, beliefs, values and traditions while exploring their own beliefs and questions of meaning.
- challenges pupils to reflect on, consider, analyse, interpret and evaluate issues of truth, belief, faith and ethics and to communicate their responses.
- encourages pupils to develop their sense of identity and belonging.
- enables them to flourish individually within their communities and as citizens in a pluralistic society and global community.
- enables pupils to develop respect for and sensitivity to others, in particular those whose faiths and beliefs are different from their own.
- promotes discernment and enables pupils to combat prejudice.
The inclusion of non-religious beliefs such as Humanism is crucial to fulfilling the aims and purpose of RE; learning about religion and belief, and learning from religion and belief, for all children.
It is extremely important for children with no religion to feel included in RE teaching by having their views discussed and respected, and so develop their sense of identity and belonging. By exploring Humanist answers to challenging questions about meaning, right and wrong and what it means to be human, non-religious children will have an opportunity for personal reflection and moral development. Excluding non-religious views from RE could mean much of the subject becomes irrelevant for non-religious children.
It is equally important for children of all religions and none to develop knowledge and understanding about non-religious world views, in order to develop respect for and sensitivity to others, and to flourish individually within their communities and as citizens in a pluralistic society.
High Court Judgement on Religious Studies GCSE
In November 2015 the High Court ruled that the Government made an ‘error of law’ in leaving non-religious views out of the RE GCSE. In his judgment, Mr Justice Warby said the curriculum must be ‘conveyed in a pluralistic manner’ and ‘the state must accord equal respect to different religious convictions, and to non-religious beliefs’.
The British Humanist Association have noted that the consequences of this decision are wider than the GCSE curriculum and apply to the subject as a whole, and mean that “religious education syllabuses around the country will now have to include non-religious worldviews such as humanism on an equal footing”.
“What the decision has done is firmly established the fact, based on the European Convention on Human Rights, that Religious Education (and not Religious Studies), outside of faith schools, must be neutral, impartial, objective and pluralistic. RE must treat the principal religious and non-religious worldviews in this country equally (other than Christianity, which could have a greater share of coverage). If a syllabus has a certain level of coverage of Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism, and Buddhism, then it must now give similar priority in its level of coverage of Humanism. This clearly has big implications for agreed syllabuses, schools, and Academy chains in setting their RE curriculum content.”
Revision of the Derbyshire Agreed Syllabus
The next revision of the syllabus is due in 2019, and will need to require non-religious views are taught, in at least as much depth as Islam and Judaism, in order to be in line with the ruling.
Resources for teaching Humanism
All schools should be including non-religious views in RE teaching, at every key stage, and there are many resources available to support schools in doing this.
The British Humanist Association launched a new website Understanding Humanism in April 2016 offering comprehensive, flexible, and free educational resources for inclusive RE. This includes teaching toolkits for each key stage, guidance, case studies and information on how to request Humanist speakers for schools.
A copy of The Young Atheists Handbook by Alom Shaha has been sent to every secondary school in the country, and a set of accompanying teaching notes can be downloaded.
Also a copy of What is Humanism by Michael Rosen and Ann Marie Young will be sent to every school in the UK in 2017.
School speakers can also be arranged via the BHA website, and also via the Derby Open Centre. Schools in the north of Derbyshire and High Peak areas can request a school speaker via Greater Manchester Humanists.