SACRE meeting 5th March 2012

As usual, I attended this meeting of the Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE) as a silent observer. West Sussex County Council (WSCC) has barred non-religious membership.

The meeting welcomed new member Jenny Cole, representing the Quaker movement. Humanists have a great deal in common with Quakers. Chichester Humanists has invited Chichester Quakers to give a talk on conscientious objection in April.

The first topic under discussion was the relationship of SACRE to the increasing number of academies and free schools. These schools do not have to follow the local Religious Education (RE) syllabus drawn up by SACRE. A decision will be made whether to have an academy representative on SACRE. A process will be set up for dealing with academies. It was pointed out that 4 of the West Sussex academies have chaplains.

The meeting then discussed the local RE syllabus. This has to be approved every 5 years. Feedback from schools showed that they preferred it to continue unchanged (not exactly surprising, as they are pressed for time). The meeting agreed (but I strongly disagree).

The syllabus comprises three parts: Principles, Content and Assessment. It was revealed that teachers largely ignore the Principles section. This is the only part of the syllabus that mentions Humanism (once). The only critical comments from schools related to a desire for more guidance (the previous syllabus was more prescriptive). WSCC no longer provides INSET training for RE and there is a shortage of trained RE teachers, especially in primary schools.

Former RE advisor Nigel Bloodworth said that schools valued courses that used to be run by WSCC. These showed schools how to arrange their RE curriculum. He reminded the meeting that there was supplementary material online, as one member was worried that schools may not feel confident to teach some religions.

One member suggested that WSCC work with third parties to help deliver one day training sessions for different religions. Nigel Bloodworth agreed that SACRE could be involved in setting these up.

Peter Griffiths, Cabinet Minister for Education, then apparently reversed his previous views about Humanism, saying that the syllabus must provide a broad and balanced curriculum, with a recommendation to teach Humanism. For years, Mr Griffiths has prevented a Humanist member on SACRE for no apparent reason, despite being given detailed supporting arguments.

[NOTE: The current RE syllabus only recommends teaching non-religious worldviews "where appropriate" but fails to explain when it might be inappropriate. No one, including Cabinet Minister for Education Mr Griffiths, former RE advisor Mr Bloodworth, WSCC and even the authors of the National Framework for RE (on which the syllabus is based) can explain this direction to schools.

In the past I have offered to take part in the group that writes the RE syllabus, in order to correct the serious religious bias that has always prevailed. This offer has yet to be taken up.]

The meeting turned to the reduced reporting by OFSTED, which now only rates  Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural (SMSC) development within a school, without reference to RE or Collective Worship. As mentioned in previous meetings, SACRE is unaware what is happening in schools across the County, despite a legal obligation to do so.

The last item to be considered was the All Parliamentary Group on Religious Education. This group of 150 MPs will be trying to improve the dismal state of RE across the country. [What is needed is a national syllabus for a broad and balanced subject to replace RE, drawn up by independent academics. This would be the death knell for SACREs of course, as the hundreds of locally produced RE syllabuses (of varying quality) would be replaced by a single RE syllabus to be followed by all schools.]

Baptist Chair Derek James was concerned that non-conformists didn't appear to be included in the setting up of the group. This is rather ironic as he has striven to prevent Humanist membership of SACRE and also Humanism from the RE syllabus. He was however reassured that the new group is fully inclusive. A member then requested that SACRE appoint a Humanist member, but he got no reply.

Last Updated (Sunday, 11 March 2012 23:39)


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