SACRE meeting 10th November 2008

After approving the minutes of the last meeting, the SACRE considered the RE examination results from Summer 2008.

Attention was then directed towards the SACRE Annual Report. The report mentions OFSTED's decision in 2005 not to provide reports on subjects; as a consequence, SACRE has little knowledge of how RE is being taught in schools.

The report also contains a reply from government to a request for guidance on how SACRE should deal with the lack of daily acts of worship in schools throughout West Sussex (80% of secondary schools break the law by not conducting a daily act of worship). The government simply reiterated that it is the responsibility of headteachers, governors and the local authority to ensure that schools have a daily act of worship.

The report then laid out the principles that should apply to the creation of the new RE syllabus. One of the principles states "The Syllabus should be inclusive and be relevant to pupils who come from a background of any religion or none." We now know that this principle was largely ignored, as far as including the non-relgious is concerned. 97 schools were consulted regarding the new syllabus; none of them mentioned that it excluded the non-religious.

Under the section "Links with other agencies", the report says that SACRE carefully considered the impact of OFSTED's publication Making Sense of Religion. Part 119 of this says "SACREs reflect the continuing importance of religious and non-religious beliefs in the lives of individuals and communities. It is essential that local faith communities are confident that what is taught is accurate and balanced. Parents, whether involved in faith communities or not, need to be assured that their child’s school respects diversity, understands the importance which belief and commitment play in developing personal identity, and supports the growth of community cohesion. Enabling the representatives of this diversity to meet is important." This is clearly not the case. West Sussex SACRE does not represent the non-religious, nor does it's new RE syllabus. Part 120 goes on to say "With agreed syllabus conferences, SACREs provide diverse religious and non-religious communities with a unique opportunity to contribute to the curriculum and gain insights into issues in English education." So far, West Sussex SACRE has ignored the non-religious members of the community.

The final part of the report refers to a self-evaulation exercise for the SACRE, to be completed in 2009. Nigel Bloodworth, RE advisor, has indicated how he thinks SACRE is performing according to the criteria of the self-evaluation process. Some of these statements are clearly not true:

"The membership of the SACRE strongly reflects the diversity of the wider religious and professional community." The SACRE and LA ensure representation broadly reflects the diversity of the local community." How can it when there is no one representing the non-religious part of the community?

"Good use is made of co-option to ensure membership of the SACRE is well informed and is highly representative of the diversity of the local community." Very ppor use was made of co-otion, as my application for membership was voted against ... by the council and most religious members.

"The SACRE fully uses the National Framework in the construction of the revised agreed syllabus." The new West Sussex RE syllabus only recommends teaching non-religious beliefs where appropriate. This was not the intention of the National Framework syllabus. I clearly pointed this out to Nigel Bloodworth on several occasions, backed up by a senior govermnent advisor, but was ignored.

"SACRE has a clear commitment to the part RE can play in promoting the social and racial harmony agenda ..." How can it do so marginalising the non-religious?

One statement that is true is "The SACRE has limited information about, or contact with, wider local authrity initiatives linked to the promotion of social and racial harmony." For example, Crawley BC is actively involved in Crawley Inter Faith Network, which includes a Humanist member.

Annex 1 of the report says that an effective locally agreed RE syllabus should " ... reflect breadth and balance in religious education, particulary taking into account local characteristics and circumstances." Clearly, the new West Sussex RE syllabus does not do this. We know that 36% of the population prefer Humanist explanations to religious ones. Where is this reflected in the syllabus in a balanced way?

Andrew Edmondson