Humanism in the Derbyshire Agreed Syllabus

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.


Teaching Humanism

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.

Religious Visitors 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).


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.”

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.

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. 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.

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 choose not 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, as they are uncomfortable with the nature of these visits.

Operation Christmas Child in Derbyshire

October 2016 – SACRE endorses Aquabox as an alternative to OCC

At its meeting on 17th October 2016, the Derbyshire Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE) heard a presentation by Derbyshire charity Aquabox, who distribute emergency supplies including a filter to provide safe drinking water, to refugees and victims of natural disasters. The SACRE agreed to endorse Aquabox to schools as an alternative to OCC.

March 2016 – Update on OCC collections in Derbyshire Schools:

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

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

The SACRE agreed that a communication will be sent to schools to advise them on the religious nature of the scheme.


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 creationism 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 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 being dishonest 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