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SACRE meeting 20th June 2011

As usual, I attended this meeting as an observer, unable to speak.

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

One councilor wondered why the syllabus needed reviewing every 5 years, as it seemed to him that spiritual, moral, social and cultural issues are unchanging.

It was agreed that the current syllabus should be modified rather than rewritten. RE advisor Nigel Bloodworth said that national developments currently being discussed may require changes to the syllabus.

There was a common desire for the syllabus to be concise, supplemented by support materials.

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 in GCSE RE.

One of the members thought that young adults should be consulted in order to learn how useful they found RE. Another wanted to include the views of children. Nigel Bloodworth reminded members that involvement of the Youth Council was discussed at a previous meeting.

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.

As usual, the subject of Humanist membership was quickly dismissed with a few hasty comments about this being a separate issue for which Cabinet Member Peter Griffiths was responsible.

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. It remains to be seen if SACRE wish to consult me.

The meeting ended by Nigel Bloodworth suggesting that there might be a need to co-opt a representative for the growing number of academies. Academies and free schools can set their own RE syllabus and threaten to make SACRE redundant, as does the exclusion of GCSE RE from the new English Baccalaureate.

Read several local newspaper articles about this meeting.

 

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