SACRE meeting 22nd June 2009

SACRE meeting 22nd June 2009

I arrived at the meeting late, and missed notification of the appointment of new members following the elections in April. The Cabinet Member for Education and Schools has not yet considered my application (along with the co-opted Buddhist representative). You can read an article in the Mid Sussex Times regarding my application for membership.

The Self-Evaluation exercise was signed off (see previous meeting).

The government is conducting a consultation on its proposed Religious Education in English Schools: Non-statutory Guidance 2009. I have already completed this consultation as an individual. SACRE discussed their proposed response to the consultation, which of course was quite dissimilar from my own. A few technical changes to the Guidance were agreed, as was the inclusion of guidance that schools be advised to spend 5% of teaching time on Religious Education (this has been removed in the current proposed government guidance, which allows schools to determine the time spent).

The meeting then discussed the new West Sussex Guidance for Collective Worship in Schools. Not being a member of SACRE, I couldn't comment on the content, which was unanimously approved after a few minor alterations. The BHA position is that Collective Worship should be abolished, as it discriminates against the non-religious. It should be replaced by an inclusive assembly.

The new West Sussex guidance is full of inconsistency. Just as Religious Education is not simply about religion, Collective Worship is no longer solely about worship. Why use such confusing titles then? Why not have Religion and Belief Education (or better still, Philosophy, Culture and Belief) instead of Relgious Education? And Assembly instead of Collective Worship?

The guidance begins by claiming that collective worship is important and makes a major contribution to the spiritual and moral development of pupils. It hardly seems moral to coerce pupils into an act of worship.

Apart from the usual references to prayer and hymns, the guidance seems to include other non-religious activities such as "exploring shared values", "space for reflection", "silence and contemplation". I'm not sure about the value of the latter two, bearing in mind that these activities are supposed to take place amidst the entire school at morning assembly.

More worrying, however, local faith leaders are encouraged to play a part. And schools should "bring pupils to the threshold of worship" and "introduce pupils to religious worship in a meaningful and honest way". This is the role of a church, not a school.

"There is a need for worship to be an activity and experience to which all can contribute and from which all can benefit, irrespective of personal commitment or life stance." How can a non-religious person benefit from worship, i.e. showing devotion to a deity?

The guidance points out that the presenters of collective worship (teachers) should not be placed in an awkward position. In fact, most community secondary schools fail to have a daily act of worship. One reason for this is the lack of staff willing to conduct an act of worship (these schools break the law every day; but of course it is an unenforceable law. Unfortunately, most primary schools comply).

A full copy of the guidance will be posted here as soon as I receive it.


Andrew Edmondson


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