SACRE meeting 4th March 2013

SACRE stands for Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education and is an unelected body that writes the local RE syllabus for schools and advises West Sussex County Council on matters concerning RE, including the daily act of worship.

For over 6 years I have been trying to join this group in order to represent the views of the non-religious residents of West Sussex. My applications in 2007 and 2010 were rejected for no given reason. According to the 2011 census, at least 25% of the population is non-religious. Also, 65% of 18-24 year olds are non-religious, according to the British Social Attitudes survey 2012. Religious practice is a declining minority occupation, with less than 7% of people regularly attending church.

I have attended most of the SACRE meetings since 2006, always as an observer unable to speak. This last meeting was no exception. The first item to be discussed was membership of SACRE. Current members were reminded that they had to apply for membership of the new SACRE following the May elections.

I have just submitted my application to David Sword, Director of Education for WSCC. As before, I attached my detailed case, which you can download here. No member of WSCC has ever replied to any of its arguments. My application has been forwarded to Peter Griffiths (Cabinet Minister for Education for WSCC), as my appointment is a political decision. He has never given a good reason for barring Humanist membership of SACRE.

The antiquated rules of SACRE prevent a non-religious full member, even though other SACREs have appointed them without any negative consequences. I could apply once again for co-opted membership but I would be unable to vote and would have to leave the room when voting issues were discussed. I would be a second-class member with less rights that Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Bahai and Quaker members. In any case, my previous attempt at co-option was roundly rejected by the religious members.

The time has come for West Sussex County Council to give their non-religious residents a say in how their children are taught about religion, belief, morality, relationships, etc. This will not be achieved through the tick-box exercise of co-option.

The main topic for discussion was the redrafting of a new RE syllabus. Because of a recent interim report from the REC (Religious Education Council), the local RE syllabus for West Sussex has been put on hold in case there are any further specific recommendations from the REC. It was decided that the sub-committee that draws up the syllabus should meet in October and make some proposals at the November meeting.

The REC report, which can be found here, is based on consultations with various stakeholders. Some of them question the validity of RE as a proper subject and suggest that it be replaced with a proper academic subject such as Philosophy, which would serve to increase its importance and popularity in schools (some schools have already done this). Teachers and the general public are largely unaware of the nature and purpose of this anomalous, legally-enforced "subject" that grew out of proselytising Religious Instruction.

It recommends a rewrite of the Non-Statutory National Framework for RE, which is the basis of most local RE syllabuses, and which advises schools that non-religious worldviews only need to be taught "where appropriate", giving schools an easy opt-out.

The report claims that there is a tradition of inclusiveness in RE, which is clearly nonsense bearing in mind that non-religious worldviews are ignored completely in Primary Schools and given minimal coverage in Secondary Schools. Some stakeholders say that there is an assumption in RE that it is better to be religious than not. And half of SACREs so not have non-religious members.

The report lists many weaknesses of current RE practice, exacerbated by the reliance on local religious members of SACRE to draw up their preferred syllabus. No wonder RE is not taken seriously by schools.

The meeting turned to OFSTED inspection of RE in schools, or rather the lack of it. Members agreed that the scant report was virtually useless.

A recent OFSTED report has suggested that SACREs be strengthened so that they can monitor and influence all schools. West Sussex SACRE members have repeatedly stated that they are unable to monitor what is going on in our schools. This is partly due to lack of funding and partly because schools are unwilling to participate.

The report also considers a national curriculum to replace the 150 or so current local syllabuses. It's only a matter of time before this happens. Bearing in mind that the only role West Sussex SACRE performs is to produce a local RE syllabus every 5 years, it spells the end of this odd institutional by-product of a post-war government compromise with the C of E and Catholic Church.

One member was concerned about the potential lack of collective worship in Academies and Free Schools. He was reassured that the funding agreement of these new schools obliged them to follow the same legal requirements as all schools, i.e. there must be daily act of worship. Most secondary schools ignore this law, without penalty. Most primary schools obey the law, essentially forcing children to pray.

No one mentioned the recent change in part of the law (Circular 1/94) that worship no longer needs to be mainly Christian. The sound government guidance now is that any prayer is better than no prayer. I wonder if parying to the Flying Spaghetti Monster counts? Could be popular.

Last Updated (Wednesday, 13 March 2013 11:49)


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