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)
Baptist "Cut out the recommendation to teach secular philosophies, especially the term "secular"
Catholic "We are talking about religion, Religion is a very big subject. I don't think other worldviews should be included."
Buddhist "There is too much about belief in God in KS1 and KS2"

Group B (C of E)
No comment

Group C (teachers)
Teacher "Buddhism is too difficult to teach at KS1 and KS2"

Group D (council)
"Replace "others" by "many" in the following statement: Many pupils come from religious backgrounds, but others have no attachment to religious beliefs and practices."

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."
"Leave the actual judgement [about non-religious worldviews] up to schools. In practice, in primary schools in West Sussex, non-religious world views are not taught. In secondary schools, there is often a unit, e.g. on religion and science."

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."


General Teaching Requirements

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)
Schools have a responsibility to provide a broad and balanced curriculum for all pupils
… [it must] meet the needs of individuals and groups of pupils.
… to provide all pupils with relevant work at each key stage.

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.
… pupils bring to school different experiences.
… so that all pupils can take part in lessons fully and effectively.
… securing their motivation and concentration.
… providing equality of opportunity through teaching approaches.
… all pupils can feel secure and are able to contribute appropriately.
… varying subject content and presentation so that this matched their learning needs.
… planning work which builds on their interests and cultural experiences.
… taking account of the interests and concerns of boys and girls …
… taking account of [children's] specific religious and cultural beliefs relating to the representation of ideas or experiences …

Overcoming potential barriers to learning.
… selecting tasks and materials sensitively to avoid unnecessary stress for the pupil.
… providing positive feedback to reinforce and encourage learning and build self-esteem.

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.


Vote for a Humanist representative on SACRE

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
As in earlier discussions, the Baptist member led the way. His organisation said that it was up to him to decide. He quoted DfES circular 1/94 which disallows Humanists to become full members of the SACRE (This guidance contravenes the Human Rights Act which makes it illegal to discriminate on grounds of belief. The BHA are mounting a legal challenge.) He argued that allowing a Humanist representative would open the floodgates to other minority religious groups. He claimed that these religious groups had a greater membership than the BHA, and therefore had a greater right to join the SACRE. The Chair pointed out that no other group had applied for membership.

Group B (C of E): For the motion
They said that they didn't have a chance to consult the church in the last 4 months. The Chair instructed them to vote on their behalf, as they saw fit.

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

No comment

Chair
The Chair had sounded out other Council members. She found them to have mixed views: a need to be democratic; could open the floodgates; many spoke as the head teacher above.


Summary of votes: 2 against, 1 for, 1 abstention

Note: If there had been a simple majority vote of the members, the motion would still have failed.


Final note

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.

 

Andrew Edmondson