The National Secular Society campaigns for complete reform of Religious Education (RE) in Britain. We think the best way forward is a completely revised RE syllabus that teaches about both religious and non-religious worldviews – under a different subject name and as part of the National Curriculum.
Religious groups and representatives should have no privileged input and any syllabus should be nationally determined by independent educationalists without a confessional religious agenda.
At present, RE is compulsory all maintained schools, but not as part of the National Curriculum. Uniquely, the content of RE lessons in community schools is determined locally by Local Education Authority convened bodies called SACREs (Standing Advisory Committees on Religious Education), often dominated by religious interests. Meanwhile, many faith schools are still permitted by law to teach the subject from a selective, exclusive or confessional viewpoint.
We believe the current arrangements for the provision of RE should preclude it from being considered for inclusion in the English Baccalaureate.
We recognise that religion is clearly an important political and ideological phenomenon and can appreciate the potential value of a serious academic subject that teaches a variety of worldviews, including ethics. We do not share the Government's view that the RE syllabus needs to reflect local circumstances.
Legally, if a parent or guardian requests it, pupils can be withdrawn from RE. However, particularly in faith schools where religious instruction can become cross curricular and creep into other subjects such as Geography and History, withdrawal is impractical.