The inclusion of Humanism in the Derbyshire Agreed Syllabus

The Derbyshire Agreed Syllabus for Religious Education

The Derbyshire Agreed Syllabus, last revised in 2014, 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.

The Syllabus outlines the religions to be covered within RE in Section 2.2 ‘Breadth of Study: which religions and beliefs and when’. The law allows provision to be mainly Christian, but must take account of the other “principal religions represented in Great Britain.” The syllabus states that “pupils must be taught about Christianity in each Key Stage, and schools will select further religions for study in depth in each of KS1-KS3.” ‘Further religions’ are specified as the “six principal religions represented in the UK (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism).”

The teaching of non-religious views such as Humanism is mentioned in the notes for Section 2.2, but is presented as optional; “Schools may also plan to refer to further religions or belief systems, such as those represented within their school and local area. These might include other religious traditions and belief systems, such as the Bahá’í faith, the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Humanism.”

The notes also state that “In addition, schools should take into account pupils’ beliefs, viewpoints and ideas. Many pupils will come from backgrounds with no particular religious belief or affiliation. The 2011 census information reveals that over 27% of people in Derbyshire have no religion. Exploring atheistic and agnostic responses to human experience is a valuable part of RE.”

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, however the syllabus as it currently stands in not in line with the law, and schools need to be made aware that the inclusion of non-religious views in Religious Education is legally required.

A comprehensive range of resources provided has been provided by the British Humanist Association to enable schools who may not previously have taught non-religious viewpoints to incorporate this into their RE provision.

Resources for teaching Humanism

The British Humanist Association are launching a new website Humanism for Schools 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 is being 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 Primary school.

School speakers can also be arranged via Derbyshire Atheists, Secularists and Humanists.

Evangelism in Derbyshire Schools

Schools are attended by pupils from all faiths and none, and evangelising by any particular group is inappropriate in a school setting. This undermines the rights of parents and children, and is contrary to the guidance of the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE), yet every term thousands of children in Derbyshire are preached to, often without the knowledge or consent of their parents.


The Matlock Area Schools Trust (MAST) is an inter-denominational trust set up 15 years ago to support people ministering in schools. Representatives from churches in Matlock, Bonsall and Bakewell visit schools in Derbyshire to conduct assemblies and RE lessons in which they teach children about ‘the fundamentals of the Bible’, and the Christian faith.

There is a ten minute presentation on the MAST website which gives an overview of the content of assemblies, and makes clear that the intention of the group is to “promote Gods word to children from all backgrounds”. In the words of the Chair, Martyn Pyne “God has called us to sow the seed, his word, into children’s lives.” It is perfectly clear that the intent is to convert children to Christianity, and promote attendance at churches, the presentation closes with a message for it’s church supporters, “MAST is being run to support your church, we are sowing into young people’s lives, and wherever there is a sowing, there is also a reaping. MAST prays that you as a church may flourish as you reap what has been sown into these young people’s lives.”

Each term the Group visits 75 schools, and reaches around 8000 children. If you wish to know when these assemblies will take place at a particular school, the dates of school visits are published monthly and can be found on the publications section of the website.

National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE)

NATRE have published a document called Voices of Faith and Belief in Schools offering guidance and a code of conduct for visits to schools by religious believers.

The guidance notes that schools are ‘plural communities’ with members of different faith groups including those with non-religious views, and that visitors should “be willing to respect the right of the pupils and adults in the school to hold views that may be different from their own” and “develop ways of speaking to pupils that communicate their open approach, avoiding any hidden agenda to ‘convert’ or proselytise.”

National Secular Society (NSS)

The National Secular Society has written a report on Evangelism in schools, and found that there is an increase in evangelical organisations going into schools, that visits often take place without parents knowledge, and that these visits are going unquestioned by Headteachers, Governors, and Local Education Authorities.

The NSS maintain a list of evangelical groups active in schools, and a request has been sent to add MAST to the list.

Rights of parents

Parents may not be aware of visits to their child’s school by this group, as schools do not always inform parents.

The National Secular Society argues that this constitutes a human rights issue, noting that “The presence of evangelical organisations and individuals in publicly funded schools, particularly non-religious ones, undermines the rights of parents who choose a non-religious upbringing, or an upbringing of any other faith”.

Guidance from NATRE states that “Parents have the right to know what is happening in school. Parents from different faith backgrounds, different denominations or groups and of no faith may, quite reasonably, be concerned about the religious input their children receive in school, and clarity of information from school to home needs to be maintained all the time”.

Rights of children

MAST visits schools once per term , every six weeks, and as the only religious group with such an agreement of regularly scheduled visits, have a privileged position in Derbyshire schools. Where these visits are not balanced by visitors from other faiths, or non-religious visitors such as Humanists, this presents children with a biased view.

The National Secular Society argues that this is unacceptable, as “Children who are subjected to confessional materials with little or no opportunity of hearing differing views are being denied not only their right to an objective and balanced education but also their own religious freedom”.

Guidance from NATRE also notes the rights of children, stating that “Children have their own integrity too. It is a fundamental principle that religious education work and collective worship experiences should demonstrate respect for the attitude and perspective of each child”.

Legal right to withdraw

Parents have the legal right to withdraw their children from collective worship and Religious Education, however many parents do not choose to do this routinely for fear of making their child feel excluded from school activities. However some Derbyshire parents have decided to withdraw their child from the MAST assemblies only, and it is possible that many more would wish to do so if they were fully informed about these visits.

Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE)

Each Local Education Authority maintains a SACRE, to advise on and monitor all matters relating to religious education and collective worship in schools. The SACRE for Derbyshire County Council meets three times per year, meetings are public and meeting dates can be sought from County Hall, Matlock.

Many Local Authorities, including Sheffield City Council publish guidance on religious visitors to schools which follow the NATRE code of conduct.

Similar guidance from Derbyshire County Council is being sought.

Operation Christmas Child in Derbyshire

Update on OCC collections in Derbyshire Schools:

The Derbyshire Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE) considered the involvement of schools in organising OCC collections, or distributing promotional information in its meeting on 21st March 2016.

The SACRE considered objections to the scheme summarised in this article published on the Humanist Life blog,  and also a written response from OCC UK.

The SACRE will send a communication to schools to advise them on the religious nature of the scheme, if available a copy of the communication will be posted here.


Operation Christmas Child is a shoebox gift scheme run by Samaritans Purse to deliver christmas gifts to disadvantaged children. The scheme has been widely criticised by non-religious and secular groups including the British Humanist Association and the National Secular Society, and by charities and companies such as Oxfam, Save the Children, and The Co-operative Group. The main points of criticism are summarised here, and there are links to some excellent articles below for further information.


Operation Christmas Child is run by Samaritans Purse, US based organisation which takes a very literal view of the bible, including the seven day creation and the existence of Satan and Hell. The shoeboxes are not merely intended to provide a gift to a child in need, but are actively used to proselytise and recruit children to a particular ‘brand’ of fundamentalist Christianity. Children are asked to acknowledge their sin and pledge themselves to God in the leaflet they receive with the box. Children are then recruited to a ‘discipleship program’ called The Greatest Journey which teaches 7-day creationism as fact, something not allowed in UK schools. Upon graduation children are given a bible and sent back into their communities to try to convert friends and family as well.

Using gifts or aid in this way as a means to convert vulnerable children whose families may be of different faiths is unethical, and has been criticised by various charities including Oxfam and Save the Children.


Samaritans Purse has contributed financially to the campaign against equal marriage in the US, and it’s CEO Franklin Graham is openly homophobic on social media.

As Derbyshire County Council is a Stonewall Top 100 Employer 2015, and some schools in the county are part of Stonewall’s School Champions programme, it seems counter to the aims of equality and inclusiveness for any schools to be supporting a charity with an openly homophobic agenda.

Information provided by Operation Christmas Child UK

The UK branch of Operation Christmas Child is not honest about the nature of the scheme. Following an investigation by the Charity Commission, boxes from the UK (unlike those from the US) do not contain any religious literature, and OCC UK makes much of this fact in interviews and written material, also highlighting that boxes are checked and any religious items removed.

However this isn’t the full story. The church partners distributing boxes also give children a leaflet, billed in UK promotional material as ‘a booklet of bible stories’. In fact this leaflet begins by explaining the Garden of Eden story, and why Adam and Eve were sinners, the theme of sin recurs heavily throughout. The leaflet ends with a prayer in which children are asked to say “I know I am a sinner, I made wrong choices and did bad things” and are then asked to sign a pledge that they are now”Gods child”. This is not merely ‘bible stories’ but is using the fear of Satan and hell to coerce children into converting.

OCC UK are not being honest to people donating boxes, by not being upfront about the nature of the literature that children receive, and by downplaying the evangelism and links to US fundamentalists. A Radio 4 piece (from 23.30) from Nov 15 is a good example.

This scheme remains popular with many schools and parents, and seems on the surface to be a way to teach children about giving to those in need. However there are very many ways of doing this, and of giving to charity without allowing your generosity to be misused by fundamentalists.


There are many excellent articles on this subject if you would like further information:

British Humanist Association

Humanistlife blog, October 2014, Why parents shouldn’t support operation christmas child

British Humanist Association – Samaritans Purse

National Secular Society

NSS blog Oct 2012 enticing children to evangelism with toys

NSS blog Nov 2014 operation christmas child

NSS blog Nov 2015 operation christmas child, christian fundamentalism gift wrapped

Homophobia Nov 2015 charity head praises Russia’s anti gay laws Jan 2016 christian charity head declares gay people are the enemy


The Guardian Nov 2003 The evangelicals who like to giftwrap Islamophobia

The Guardian Dec 2014 Evangelical giftwrapping islamophobia marches on

Franklin Graham Nov 2013 the imperialist cult of Franklin Graham Aug 2015 Franklin Graham’s salary raises eyebrows among christian nonprofits


Operation Christmas Child Alert UK website