RE syllabus heavily biased against the non-religious


The following letter to the Editor was published in Mid Sussex Times on 3rd July 2011.  The article opposite appeared in the Chichester Observer before the meeting referred to in the letter.

EVERY FIVE years, West Sussex County Council (WSCC) is legally obliged to review its local Religious Education (RE) syllabus for community schools. Today, members of the Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE) met to discuss how to proceed towards the new syllabus in April, 2013.

As usual, I attended the meeting as an observer, unable to speak on behalf of the non-religious residents of West Sussex. WSCC has repeatedly refused to include a Humanist member of SACRE.

Humanism is the belief that we can lead good lives without religion and that the world is best explained using reason and experience. Humanists support human rights, which include freedom of belief.


The current RE syllabus is heavily biased against non-religious worldviews such as humanism, despite around 50 per cent of the population being non-religious.

The main business of the meeting was to discuss the principles put forward by David Sword, director of learning. Two of these principles are:

The new syllabus should take into account any national guidance that is available and the format of the new National Curriculum.

The syllabus should be inclusive and relevant to pupils who come from a background of any religion or none.

The new National Curriculum and other national guidance recommend the inclusion of non-religious beliefs as part of a broad and balanced curriculum. There is also a legal duty for all schools to promote community cohesion, which can hardly be achieved by excluding the non-religious.

RE advisor Nigel Bloodworth read out a brief statement of mine supporting the principle of full inclusion. Baptist chairman Derek James said that secular (non-religious) world views were an important part of the syllabus and gave the impression that it already had good coverage. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Humanism is mentioned just once in the preamble of the syllabus. The only other mention of secular worldviews is to advise schools that they should only teach them “where appropriate”, though no-one is able to say what this means. In practice, schools ignore the advice. Primary schools don’t bother at all and only older secondary school students ever get to consider humanism, and even that is discretionary.

After agreeing the principles, the meeting had to decide on a steering group to oversee the revision of the new syllabus. Four members were voted in, one from each of the four groups comprising SACRE. Lib Dem Bob Smytherman argued for inclusion of a humanist onto the steering group in view of the above agreed principles. He was told this would not be possible, although it was within the power of SACRE to consult interested parties.

WSCC has once again snubbed non-religious residents and prevented them from having a say in how their children are taught about religion and belief, morality, human rights, relationships, life and death, and other topics on the RE syllabus.

Although I have been prevented from joining SACRE and cannot speak at meetings or play a formal part in writing the syllabus, I have offered to advise SACRE on the inclusion of humanism in the syllabus.

I urge your readers to write to their councillor or MP requesting full inclusion of the non-religious in RE and on SACRE. They can also email the RE advisor for West Sussex (; several councillors have done so already.

Andrew Edmondson



A WEST Sussex County Council spokesman said: “The current syllabus for religious education follows the national guidance that is fully supported by the British Humanist Association and there is a commitment by Sacre to continue to follow this guidance.”

Although the BHA contributed to the Non-statutory Framework for RE, managing to get some references to non-religious worldviews included, this document is heavily biased towards religious beliefs and is certainly not fully supported by the BHA. West Sussex County Council continue to conceal their religious bias towards education, breaking their own claims to being an inclusive council.

Last Updated (Wednesday, 20 July 2011 22:43)


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