Opinion Former Article

Response of Welsh Catholic schools to RE proposals shows why reform is so badly needed, says Humanists UK

Humanists UK has today expressed alarm at attempts by Catholic headteachers to block urgently needed reforms to religious education in Wales. In an open letter to the Welsh First Minister, Mark Drakeford, the 84 heads complain that the proposal to introduce a new, more inclusive form of religious education – to be known as Religion, Values, and Ethics (RVE) – that will require schools to teach about humanism in addition to religions, ‘risks diluting the diversity of provision in Wales’.

The changes will also give parents of children in schools with a religious character – who will no longer be able withdraw their children from the subject altogether – the right to demand an inclusive alternative to faith-based RVE.

The proposals have been strongly welcomed by Humanists UK, which said this innovative plan could represent ‘one of the biggest educational reforms in 75 years’. Many parents, particularly those living in rural areas, have little choice over where to send their children. This means that many pupils end up in faith schools when they and their families do not share the religion of the school, and are currently forced to decide between religious indoctrination or opting out of religious education altogether, thus socially isolating themselves, and missing a vitally important aspect of their education.

Despite the reforms allowing Catholic schools to continue to provide RVE in line with the tenets of the faith of the school, the letter goes on to say that the imposition of a ‘neutral values curriculum’ is ‘impractical and undesirable for today’s Welsh society’ and ‘will do little to improve community cohesion or foster tolerance of world religions’. It also argues that parents ‘believe in the current approach’ and should be respected ‘as the primary educators of their children which is enshrined in the Catholic tradition’.

Responding to this, Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham said:

‘It is utterly outrageous that Catholic schools are trying to block urgently needed reforms to religious education in Wales on the basis of arguments about community cohesion and tolerance, whilst also claiming that being required to teach about humanism will dilute the subject.

‘Why does the Catholic Church see a simple measure that will protect the rights of children and their families as such a threat? Surely they recognise that every child has a right to a broad and balanced education about different religions and humanism. It's extremely difficult to reconcile their objections with the fact any requests for a non-dogmatic RVE curriculum will be made by the child’s own parents.

‘We urge the Welsh Government to press ahead with this plan regardless of this patently self-serving attempt to preserve the status quo.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham at ruth@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3000 or 0772 511 0860.

Read our article about the proposals that will give parents of children at faith schools right to demand fully inclusive religious education in Wales

Read our article on how scrapping the right to withdraw from RE could undermine human rights law.

Read our article welcoming the announcement that the new Welsh curriculum will be fully inclusive of humanism.

Read more about Wales Humanists’ work on RE.

Wales Humanists is a part of Humanists UK. Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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