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.