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Chichester Humanists is a local branch of West Sussex Humanists and represents the interests of the non-religious residents in and around Chichester.

Each month we discuss issues concerning religion and belief, ethics, equality, human rights and science, including current events.

We liase with Chichester District Council and West Sussex County Council on matters concerning equality of religion and belief, and monitor Council activities, including proposals for new "faith" schools.

We are keen to campaign on behalf of non-religious residents who feel disadvantaged because of their beliefs, e.g. access to a community school, discrimination at work or through the delivery of local services.

We organise events and displays, invite prominent speakers, and give talks to local organisations, including schools and colleges.

We meet once a month in Muchos Nachos140 Whyke Rd, Chichester PO19 8HT (tel: 01243 785 009)

Meetings are from 7.30pm on the fourth Tuesday of the month. Instead of membership subscriptions, there is a £3 entrance charge for meetings with speakers (usual concessions).

If you would like to meet some local freethinkers and have a chat, please come along and join us at the next meeting. Look out for the poster above.

For more details, email Julian.

NOTE:
Being freethinkers there are many things secular humanists will not agree on, but there are some matters on which we do take a firm and unanimous stand. We do not condone prejudice of any sort. Nor do we hate religious people. Such views are entirely contrary to any humanist philosophy and we reserve the right to exclude any person promoting them.

NUT talk at Chichester Humanists 23rd January 2012

ChichesterHumanistsTalkChrisMilesNUT23rdJanuary2012Debate

Chris Miles, primary school teacher, NUT representative and secretary of the Joint Consultative Committee, talked to a well attended meeting about religion in schools.

After a brief personal description of her long involvement in teaching and the NUT, Chris considered the introduction of collective worship in schools.

Up until the introduction of the National Curriculum in 1989, schools were free to determine whether they conducted acts of worship (apart from religious schools, of course). Chris described the concern of teachers as they tried to interpret what the new law meant. What was a "broadly Christian act of worship"? Who would be expected to conduct it? How would it be possible in large schools?

As a non-religious person, Chris came to an amicable agreement with her Head teacher and was exempted from attending acts of worship. Others weren't so lucky. Some teachers were discriminated against.

[The law on collective worship is one of the most unpopular laws in the country, according to Nick Clegg's online survey. 80% of secondary schools break the law every day, largely because staff and students are unwilling to take part. Most primary schools however hold regular acts of worship.]

Chris moved on to religious education (RE) in schools. The National Curriculum made RE a core subject, yet allowed the syllabus to be drawn up locally by local council committees called SACRE (Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education). Every 5 years, these unelected groups draw up the local RE syllabus.

Chris explained that in West Sussex primary schools children were generally taught a range of religions but were not taught secular worldviews such as Humanism. She was aware that Humanist Andrew Edmondson has been barred from joining SACRE for over 5 years. The current NUT teacher representative on SACRE teaches in a C of E school. Chris wondered if a non-religious teacher representative would be accepted into this exclusively religious, self-serving group.

Chris concluded her talk by considering the impact of academies and free schools, particulary religious ones. She questioned the government's promotion of "choice" regarding schools. From the Brighton and Hove border, children have to travel to Worthing before they reach a non-religious secondary school. This is because religious organisations like United Learning Trust (ULT), Oasis, Woodward Trust have taken over these schools as independent academies.

The NUT opposes free schools and academies for a number of reasons. They can discriminate against staff on religious and sexual grounds, can employ unqualified staff, draw up their own contracts, determine staff pay, teach their own curriculum including RE, control admissions, teach their own version of sex and relationships education, etc. They are outside local authority control. And they can change their practices whenever they like.

Chris told us that there was no conclusive evidence that academies perform better than other schools, despite their cost. She gave a few examples of where they are worse than the schools they replaced.

The rest of the meeting was devoted to questions. The proposers of Chichester Free School (non-religious community secondary) disagreed with some of Chris's comments about free schools generally. They pointed out that the only way Chichester could get a coeducational community school was by starting a free school, as this is the only source of finance from the government. Unlike the many new religious free schools springing up around the country, Chichester Free School is being started by a group of parents. They have 500 supporters.

One member told of how her 8 year old grand daughter had been excluded from a religious school in West Sussex because her parents were not religious. Only after an appeal was she finally accepted as part of the minority non-Christian quota.

One member told us of a religious school in West Wittering whose music curriculum is entirelyt devoted to the singing of hymns.

There were quite a few comments about Bishop Luffa C of E school. Not too long ago, parents preferred Chichester's single-sex Boys' and Girls' secondary schools. But now it is very popular, with parents having to attend church for 2 years before their children can be accepted. One of the parents at the meeting said they had given up the hypocrisy of attending church after a short period. This  added to the growing list of similar stories we have been told about this divisive school.

Mark Dunn, former WSCC Cabinet Minister for Education, explained his decision to convert  failing Midhurst grammar school to an academy. The only sponsor he could find was the religious United Learning Trust, which he reluctantly had to accept. He also supported a Humanist representative on SACRE but was overruled.

[Religious organisations like the C of E, ULT, Oasis, Woodward Trust are well organised, well funded and growing. This gives them an unfair advantage in taking over schools and welfare services. So much for localism.]

He also said that the current governor system in schools is one of the reasons they are underperforming. Governors are often older men who are not focussed on the all-important quality of education in the school. He said that there needs to be more competition to raise standards. He also criticised the disgraceful split between elite private education and maintained schools, peculiar to the UK.

Chris Miles ended the meeting by suggesting that what is needed is the cooperation of parents, teachers and governors. At a recent Friends, Parents and Teachers' Association (FPTA) meeting for a school of 1700 boys, only 3 parents turned up. Teachers should play a greater role in the running of schools. She also agreed with Mark Dunn that there is a shortage of good governors.

 

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Remembrance Sunday Campaign

The Chichester Observer made a video and wrote an article covering the laying of a Humanist wreath after the main religious ceremony. A transcript of the speech can be downloaded here.

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