New Government advice for schools on British values has actually taken out references to non-religious beliefs that appeared in previous versions.
Legally, schools are required to promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect, and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.’ In 2013, the Department for Education (DfE) published advice stating that, ‘There are many different actions that schools can take to meet this part of the standard, such as: …Use teaching resources from a wide variety of sources to help pupils understand a range of faiths, and beliefs such as atheism and humanism.’However, in updated advice on meeting this same standard, the DfE has removed ‘and beliefs such as atheism and humanism’ from the preceding sentence.
This retrograde step follows closely after a number of academics, teachers, and parents, together with the British Humanist Association (BHA) and the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC), condemned the exclusion of study of the non-religious worldview of humanism from new English GCSE and AS and A level criteria published by the Government.
The Government’s motive for the active exclusion of the study, or mention, of non-religious perspectives from schools is not clear. We have deep concerns about this clear inequality and the negative impact on education and social tolerance these moves may have. We have commented previously about the current Government’s agenda to promote religious faith and the anti-secularist and -atheist remarks made by prominent Tory MPs.
We’d like Labour’s education team to tackle this head on and demand that the DfE revise its advice on British values to include references to atheism and humanism again, and to ensure the study of non-religious worldviews is equal to that of religious beliefs.
We are an increasingly diverse and increasingly non-religious population and that is particularly true of younger generations. It makes no sense for the Government to ignore that reality and keep using state education to promote religion.
For more information, see the BHA’s news page.