By British Humanist Association
The Independent School Standards require schools to ‘actively promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect, and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.’ In 2013, the Department for Education (DfE) published advice stating that ’There are many different actions that schools can take to meet this part of the standard, such as: …Use teaching resources from a wide variety of sources to help pupils understand a range of faiths, and beliefs such as atheism and humanism.’ However, in updated advice on meeting this same standard, the DfE has removed ‘and beliefs such as atheism and humanism’ from the preceding sentence.
Earlier this month the DfE launched a consultation on new GCSE and A level religious studies subject content. This does not allow for the systematic study of non-religious worldviews such as Humanism, a fact that has led to widespread opposition to the content. In its briefing on why Humanism is typically studied in RE, and repeatedly in its correspondence with DfE ministers, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has pointed to the recommended study of Humanism in the 2013 guidance and the resultant inconsistency of excluding such study at GCSE and A level.
Other parts of the new guidance are also uninclusive. For example, one part says ‘Pupils must be encouraged to regard people of all faiths, races and cultures with respect and tolerance’ – but has no similar reference to respect and tolerance of those with no religious beliefs. Other parts refer to ‘faiths and beliefs’, and the term ‘belief’, in equalities legislation, is typically taken to mean non-religious beliefs. But one part refers to ‘an acceptance that other people having different faiths or beliefs to oneself (or having none) should be accepted and tolerated, and should not be the cause of prejudicial or discriminatory behaviour’ – implying that apart from this one reference, ‘belief’ may not refer to non-religious beliefs. And only the now-amended sentence refers to actually learning about other faiths.
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