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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Reform Religious Education

We advocate comprehensive reform of religious education. We think education about religion should be absorbed into a new National Curriculum subject for all pupils that covers a variety of religious, non-religious and secular philosophies and worldviews.

We think it's unjustifiable that a number of publicly funded schools with a religious designation (faith schools) are still permitted by law to teach RE from their own exclusive viewpoint. Such a situation not only undermines the integrity of the state education system, it also undermines young people's religious freedom.

Even in non-religious schools, religious groups and representatives currently enjoy privileged input into what is taught in RE. As a result, the subject too easily morphs into religious instruction, or acts as a conduit for promoting religious belief.

It is important for young people to understand the significance of religion in society, and the importance of faith to many people.

However, we believe the in-depth teaching of specific faiths should be a parental responsibility, for those that that want it, and not the role of state education.

We would therefore like to see religious education replaced with a new programme of study that allows pupils to take a more objective and religiously neutral approach to the consideration of moral and ethical issues.

Such a subject would still include basic knowledge about a variety of religions and beliefs, their broad ethical standpoints and their philosophical and/or religious underpinning.

In addition, the study of religion would also occur where it constitutes a key component of other subjects, such as history, geography, English literature and art.

Importantly, religion and belief groups should have no privileged input into the syllabus. As with other subjects, the syllabus should be nationally determined by independent educationalists without an agenda motivated by a specific religion or belief.

Community Cohesion

A common justification for the inclusion of religious education on the school curriculum is its contribution community cohesion and mutual understanding.

In a diverse society there is a clear need for pupils to learn mutual respect and tolerance. We believe cohesion is best served by children and young people recognising shared values and what they hold in common.

A key aspect of citizenship education is to teach about diverse national, regional, religious and ethnic identities in the United Kingdom and the need for mutual respect and understanding. We believe citizenship education is a far more useful vehicle for promoting community cohesion than religious education.

Our position is set out in full in our RE briefing Paper

Our key recommendations for RE reform

  • RE should be replaced with a new National Curriculum subject for all pupils. The newly devised study, under a different name, should cover a variety of religious, non-religious and secular worldviews.
  • Faith schools should lose their ability to teach about religion from their own exclusive viewpoint.
  • The construction and content of the new programme of study to replace RE should be determined by the same process as other National Curriculum subjects (by an advisory Committee supported by an expert panel of senior educationalists and academics.)
  • Teachers, subject communities, academics, employers, higher education institutions and other interested parties should be consulted, but should not have undue influence on how education about religion is delivered.

Find out more

Take action!

If you agree that education about religion should absorbed into a new National Curriculum subject for all pupils that covers a variety of religious, non-religious and secular philosophies and worldviews, please tell your MP.

Using the arguments set out in our briefing, please contact your MP to seek his or her support, at least in principle, for the establishment of a new subject of philosophy and ethics to replace religious education.

Please make the National Secular Society aware of any feedback you receive.

Find out more about withdrawal from RE and Collective Worship

Read our submission on RE to the National Curriculum Review Call for Evidence

Read our response to the Education Committee's call for evidence into the English Baccalaureate