SACRE meeting 12th March 2007
Discussion of draft RE syllabus (due for release in 2008)
At the last meeting, it was agreed that the new RE syllabus be based on the Non-statutory Framework for RE, produced by the QCA (Qualifications and Curriculum Authority). One of ehe main differences between this and the existing syllabus is the inclusion of non-religious worldviews. This is in accord with The Human Rights Act, which requires that the term "religion" be replaced by "religion and belief". The HRA also states that children have the right to be exposed to all knowledge.
It was apparent that many members had not read the draft syllabus prior to the meeting. The item most discussed was the inclusion of "a secular worldview, where appropriate". Comments were as follows.
Group A (other religions)
Group B (C of E)
Group C (teachers)
Group D (council)
During the discussions, Nigel Bloodworth (RE advisor to the council) made the following comments:
"Including "secular philosophies" is necessary
in order [for children] to understand all views out there."
All groups recommended the removal of the following statement, or at least the removal of the words "secular" and "worldview":
"Pupils should be taught a secular world view, where appropriate."
The SACRE decided to remove the General Teaching Requirements at the back of the Non-Statutory Framework for RE, and distribute it electronically, along with other teaching materials. This section applies to all subjects, but is particularly relevant to RE. Here is some of the content.
NOTE: The Non-statutory Framework for RE clearly states that inclusiveness is an important principle underlining good RE.
Inclusion: providing effective learning opportunities for all
(a statutory inclusion statement)
Applying these principles should keep to a minimum the need for aspects of the national curriculum to be disapplied to a pupil [i.e. withdrawal from RE]
Responding to pupils' diverse learning needs.
Overcoming potential barriers to learning.
Effective inclusion involves [meeting] all pupils' needs and pupils from a wide range of ethnic and diverse family backgrounds.
The framework also highlights the importance of pupils' specific religious [or non-religious] beliefs and how religious education can develop pupils' self esteem.
The motion was to co-opt a Humanist onto the SACRE; co-opted member cannot vote.
At the last meeting, each group was asked to consult the organisations they represent. The votes and comments were as follows.
Each group has a single vote, which is determined by a majority vote of its members. If the results is 2 to 2, the Chair has the casting vote.
Group A (other religions): Unanimously against the motion
Group B (C of E): For the motion
Group C (teachers): Forced to abstain because the teacher voted for, the head teacher against. Another teacher was not present at the previous meeting (in which there was a Humanist PowerPoint presentation) and so withdrew herself from the vote. Another member of the group was unable to vote because of a technical reason.
The head teacher said that he had consulted 3 or 4 other head teachers, who were surprised about the SACRE considering a Humanist member. Two of them said that it would be OK, but you will need to include Wicca, pagan groups, scientologists, etc. His bishop friend said that it would be like inviting a vegetarian to a turkey-growers convention. The head teacher is ordained in the diocese and hadn't come across a single person in the diocese that wanted a Humanist representative. He said that members of the church find it a very worrying idea, and doesn't seem to be what the SACRE is constituted for. He said that the prime purpose of the BHA was to undermine religion, e.g. removal of the bishops from the House of Lords.
The teacher reported that the Joint Consultative Committee (teachers) thought it necessary for there to be a Humanist representative on the SACRE, as a balance to religion, and that the BHA has had a positive impact on RE.
Group D (council): Against the motion
Note: If there had been a simple majority vote of the members, the motion would still have failed.
During the meeting, the RE advisor Nigel Bloodworth invited me to send comments about the first draft of the new RE syllabus, including suggestions for materials. I presented him with a list of suggestions, as I was not allowed to speak at the meeting.
The Chair also welcomed me as an observer at future meetings.
See also the press coverage following this meeting.