In a landmark ruling today, High Court judge Mr Justice Warby, above, found that the British Government was wrong to exclude humanism from the GCSE RS subject curriculum.
The exclusion, according to this report, flew in the face of the Government’s own consultation results, and went against the opinion of RE subject experts and religious leaders.
Judge Warby ruled in favour of three humanist parents and their children who challenged the Government’s rejection of non-religious worldviews in the latest subject content for GCSE Religious Studies.
The families claimed that Education Secretary Nicky Morgan had “skewed” the teaching of religion in schools by leaving out “non-religious world views” from the syllabus.
The families, supported by the British Humanist Association, argued there was widespread concern about:
The failure [by Mrs Morgan] to comply with her duty of neutrality and impartiality as between religious and other beliefs.
In his decision, the judge stated that the Government had made an “error of law” that amounted to:
A breach of the duty to take care that information or knowledge included in the curriculum is conveyed in a pluralistic manner.
While the Government will not be immediately compelled to change the GSCE, religious education syllabuses around the country will now have to put non-religious world views such as humanism on an equal footing, and pupils taking a GCSE will also have to learn about non-religious belief systems.
The judge said:
In carrying out its educational functions the state owes parents a positive duty to respect their religious and philosophical convictions … the state has a duty to take care that information or knowledge included in the curriculum is conveyed in a pluralistic manner … the state must accord equal respect to different religious convictions, and to non-religious beliefs; it is not entitled to discriminate between religions and beliefs on a qualitative basis; its duties must be performed from a standpoint of neutrality and impartiality as regards the quality and validity of parents’ convictions.
The Department for Education will now have to take action in response to the judgement against it. Further meetings will now take place between the parties to decide what steps must now be taken to ensure non-religious world views such as humanism are included.
Kate Bielby, one of the parents acting as a claimant in the case, commented:
My daughter and I are delighted by today’s decision and the clear statement that it makes in support of equality of religion and belief. It is long past time that the beliefs of the non-religious were treated on an equal footing with religions in the school curriculum.
I am confident that whatever changes are introduced on the back of this judgement, Religious Studies will be a fairer, more inclusive subject, benefitting all children whatever their religious or non-religious background.
The British Humanist Association (BHA) has welcomed the landmark decision, and its Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:
We have made the case for many decades that the school curriculum on religions should include major non-religious worldviews such as humanism. It is great news that the Court has now said the law is with us.
This is a stunning victory for the three humanist families who stood up to the Government on this issue. It is also a victory for the vast majority of people who believe in the importance of a religious education curriculum that is inclusive, balanced, and pluralistic, and which contributes to mutual understanding between people of all religions and none.
We look forward to working with the Government to ensure that the changes required by the judgement are implemented and hope they will use this as an opportunity to improve the GCSE for the benefit of all children. Continuing to exclude the views of a huge number of Britons, in the face of majority public opinion and all expert advice, would only be to the detriment of education in this country and a shameful path to follow.