West Sussex SACRE Meeting 8th March 2010

SACRE advises West Sussex County Council (WSCC) on religious education (RE) and the daily act of worship in community schools. It meets 3 times a year. Read more about SACRE.

Today's meeting at Hazelwick Secondary School, Crawley, was the first to be held outside of Chichester. Every Spring meeting will be held at a different school in West Sussex.

Councillor Peter Griffiths, cabinet member for schools and education, chaired the meeting initially. As usual, I was a silent observer, excluded by Councillor Griffiths recent decision not to appoint a Humanist representative.

Gordon Parry, head teacher of Hazelwick school, ordained priest and head teacher representative on SACRE, began by giving an interesting overview of the school. Hazelwick is a successful trust school of 1900 students of varied beliefs and ethnicities, as expected from its Crawley intake. Jews were under represented however.

Mr Parry explained how his role as head teacher was unaffected by his priesthood. He gave a moving example of the difficulties some students pose to the running of a school, and wondered how the belief systems of teachers affect the way they deal with them.

As an aside, Mr Parry was one of the most vehement opponents to Humanist inclusion on SACRE at a meeting in 2007 to decide on Humanist membership.

Councillor Griffiths handed the Chair to Baptist representative Derek James, who proceeded to welcome a new member representing the Salvation Army from Worthing. He also announced that the co-opted Buddhist member was standing down.

Nigel Bloodworth, RE advisor to WSCC, reminded the meeting that, in the event of a 2-2 tied vote on an issue, the Chair did not have a casting vote, and a decision could not be made. This led to a suggestion from Councillor Bob Smytherman (supporter of Humanist membership) to create a constitution for SACRE that could address such anomalies. Mr Bloodworth said that there were legal constraints on SACRE but that he would produce a document for new members on the rules of SACRE.

Councillor Peter Griffiths announced to the meeting that there had been press coverage of his decision to exclude Humanist representation on SACRE. He declared that he was unwilling to discuss the matter at the meeting but invited members to contact him individually.

The meeting moved on to discuss recent examination results. Overall, students in West Sussex performed above average in RE, especially those taking the full RE GCSE course. There was a request for more detailed statistics in future, so that an easier comparison with other subjects could be made.

The next agenda item was OFSTED inspections, which no longer include specific references to RE. Overall, ratings for spiritual, moral, social and cultural development are good. One school required positive intervention, which seems to be working.

Gordon Parry described his experience of OFSTED assessments in this area, which include extensive talks with teachers, students and parents. He said that you can almost immediately sense the "air" of a school during a visit. Mohinder Galowalia, from Crawley InterFaith Network, gave an example of an assembly where one could hear a pin drop.

One member wondered why there was so much teenage pregnancy, drug abuse and crime, bearing in mind the positive OFSTED report. Gordon Parry gave the example of three former students at his school who  went on to become terrorists. He said these students did not behave unusually at school but developed their extreme views abroad, as young adults.

Next on the agenda was the new government RE guidance. Nigel Bloodworth explained that this document could be used in court as legal guidance. This is of particular interest regarding the inclusion of Humanism on SACRE, as the new guidance is very supportive of inclusion, and even gives a case study of a SACRE with a Humanist member.

Councillor Bob Smytherman reminded SACRE that only 7% of the population attend church and asked how we can reach out to the non-religious. He cited one of the inclusive cases in the new RE guidance and mentioned co-opting representative members of the community. He fully supports Humanist inclusion and involvement of the whole community. He suggested later that the summer meeting considers how SACRE can contribute to community cohesion.

A Christian representative also requested that SACRE look closely at the case studies in the new RE guidance and see what can be learned from them.

Another member stressed the importance of SACRE's consideration of community cohesion and the community.

The Chair, Derek James, announced that he was representing SACRE at a community cohesion group in Chichester. He suggested that community cohesion be an agenda item for the summer meeting. Mohinder Galowalia offered to give a presentation on social cohesion and Crawley InterFaith at the next meeting. It was agreed that this will be the main agenda item at the next meeting.

It will be most interesting to see how SACRE considers community cohesion whilst excluding Humanist representation of the non-religious 43% of the population.

Councillor Peter Griffiths said that he had attended a meeting at Sussex University regarding a study into the InterFaith movement, and recommended this be an item on the summer agenda.

Gordon Parry contrasted the educational pressure on children to become "better economic cogs in society" with the core purpose of spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, i.e. how they can make the world a better place. He said that children view the world as largely secular and are influenced by the immoral behaviour of some MPs.

A head teacher of a rural primary Church of England school talked of the difficulty in promoting community cohesion in her school, where there are no pupils from ethnic minority groups. They do have links with a project in Sierra Leone, but the daily experience of young children cannot contribute to community cohesion.

It struck me that an approach based on Human Rights and Equality from the outset would go a long way to preparing children for meeting people from any background or holding any belief. I wondered how well "faith" schools and the current local RE syllabus can achieve this.

Nigel Bloodworth noted that the new RE guidance is primarily aimed at Councils rather than schools and teachers. Let's hope that they follow this guidance and fully embrace the non-religious.

Last Updated (Tuesday, 09 March 2010 12:01)


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