15 November: Andrew Copson talking to Ludlow and Marches Humanists on religious education. Car-sharing

On Tuesday 15 November, Andrew Copson, the Chief Executive of the BHA will be taling in Ludlow on ‘Religious Education – an update’. Andrew should be updating us on the implications and reaction to recent moves announced by Teresa May to allow 100% religious selection at faith schools. The meeting is at 7:30 p.m. in the Friends’ Meeting House (St Mary’s Lane, Ludlow SY8 1DZ).

We hope he will have a big turnout, but we know that it can be tiresome and expensive travelling to Ludlow from Shrewsbury, Telford and points north. Therefore we are hoping to arrange car sharing. If anyone would like to offer, or if you need a lift, please contact us through admin@shropshire.humanist.org.uk and we’ll try to help.

BHA: New research shows that 100% religiously selective schools will promote racial segregation

From the British Humanist Association:

New research carried out the BHA’s Faith Schools Campaigner has rubbished the Government’s claims that plans for a new generation of 100% religiously selective English schools will not lead to further ethnic or religious segregation. The Government had claimed that the cap has had no impact in reducing ethnic segregation.

The research, which is based on data provided in the Government’s recent green paper on increasing selection in English schools, has found that Christian schools with a 100% religiously selective intake are less diverse and admit a far higher proportion of children classified as ‘of white origin’ than schools which operate under the 50% cap on religious selection or do not select on religious grounds at all.

The research has also shown that the existing 50% cap on religious discrimination in schools has been more effective in reducing racial segregation in non-Christian ‘faith’ schools than the Government has given it credit for. We continue to call on MPs to resist attempts at permitting further religious segregation. Please remember to write to your MP via our facility to voice your concerns about these worrying new proposals.

 

NSS: Even the chief architect of the expansion of religious schools is now having doubts

From the National Secular Society, by Terry Sanderson

With the public, of all faiths and none, increasingly recognising the problems caused by faith schools, NSS president Terry Sanderson calls out politicians who complain about religious separatism on one hand while deliberately promoting it on the other.

Tony Blair, who was the chief architect of Britain’s dangerous “faith school” experiment when he was Labour Prime Minister, now appears to be having doubts about it.

Speaking at a session on world education at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai in March, Mr Blair said that intolerance must be “confronted” wherever it is found. And school is a good place to do it.

Asked whether, in general, faith schools can lead to greater segregation, Mr Blair replied: “That’s a very good question, and it’s one I ask myself often because faith schools are a big part of the UK system, a lot of people like to educate their children in those schools because sometimes they have a stronger ethos, a stronger kind of grounding in values and so on.

“I think what I would say is faith schools only work if they’re also integrated in the education system, it’s very important that young people, even if they’re taught in a school of a particular faith, are taught about other faiths, are taught in what I would say is a constructive way”.

He went on: “This question of what I call education for the open mind, is really, really important now”.

So, there we have it: Mr Blair thinks that “faith schools” only work if they are integrated into the education system”. The problem with this is that they are integrated into the education system and, as far as community cohesion is concerned, they are a disaster.

Even in community schools, that are supposedly free from a particular single religious influence, it isn’t difficult for religious zealots to gain influence. We’ve seen it happen in some Muslim areas when determined Islamists have overwhelmed community schools and tried to impose a “religious ethos” that wouldn’t be out of place in Saudi Arabia.

We are told that these schools are now returned to their original purpose of giving children a balanced education – indeed, a committee of MPs is now saying that there was no problem in the first place. But can we really dismiss the testimony of parents at these schools who were interviewed at the time and expressed their alarm at what was happening? Were the newspaper investigations that found evidence for the plot all made up? Were those teachers who were fired to make way for more Islamically pure replacements telling lies? And if there was no problem, why was the whole board of governors fired?

Read more…

Terry Sanderson is the president of the National Secular Society. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the NSS.

Religious Education Teachers’ Conference: British Humanist Association

The British Humanist Association, supported by Conway Hall Ethical Society, presents a free day-conference for Religious Education teachers to explore Humanism and the inclusion of non-religious perspectives in Religious Education, on July 16th, 2014 from 10:00 to 16:00 at Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL.

Overview

Religious Education teachers know that for their subject to remain relevant and engaging it is vital that it includes non-religious perspectives alongside religious beliefs as part of a broad and balanced curriculum. This view is supported by the Secretary of State for Education and by the Religious Education Council for England and Wales.

Surveys consistently show that a high proportion of young people are not religious, and it is vital that these young people are able to explore their own beliefs as they develop their own moral and ethical framework that will take them through to adult life.

The case for including Humanism in RE as non-religious worldview has never been stronger, but RE teachers will be the first to admit that they would value extra support and resources to be able to confidently include Humanism in lessons.

This day conference is aimed at Religious Education teachers, Head Teachers, Local Authority RE advisors, RE subject specialists and co-ordinators to increase teachers’ confidence and competence in planning and delivering lessons that include Humanism.

Attendees will:

  • Increase their understanding of Humanism as a non-religious worldview and see how it can fit in to RE lessons and contribute to Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural development (SMSC)
  • Get the latest update on the national picture and current state of play for Religious Education
  • Hear directly from practitioners and teachers about how Humanism has improved pupils and students learning, in the context of practical ideas and examples
  • Increase their own confidence and competence in delivering lessons on Humanism

Who should attend?

RE teachers, Head Teachers,  Local Authority RE advisors, and RE subject specialists.

Speakers and contributors:

Dr Mark Chater (Culham St Gabriel’s Trust)
Beth Stillings Cohen and Saara Quested (3FF)
Sara Passmore (Head of Education and Promotion at the British Humanist Association)
More to be announced…

Registration:

Registration for this event is free. Light refreshments will be provided. For further information please contact sara@humanism.org.uk.

Full details here on the BHA website.

News for October

Chris Smith writes: After the business of the AGM, SHG member Geoff Berriman presented “Torture for Humanists”.

Although Geoff agreed that torture is invariably wrong when it is used because of someone’s beliefs, or to change a person’s belief, he challenged our facile acceptance of the assertion that torture is always wrong.

He proposed that if torture is used to get information from a criminal – and then eases the suffering of a victim (and the victim’s friends and family) – it is justified.  The human rights of the victim are more important than those of the criminal.  Geoff gave provisos such as confidence in the guilt of the (so far un-convicted) villain and the example known as The Frankfurt Kidnapping was described to support this view.  In that case the threat of professionals being brought in to administer extreme pain led the person who had collected the ransom money to reveal where the kidnapped boy was held.  Sadly the boy was already dead, asphyxiated by tape over his mouth and nose.  It is not known whether the death had been intended or was incidental to an intention to keep him quiet.  The family had the small consolation of being able to have a funeral for the boy.  Unlike some of the families of the victims of “Moors Murderer” Ian Brady.

After consideration (and speaking only for myself) I recall that hard cases make bad law, think that arguing back from an outcome which may have been quite different weakens an argument, and that torture is always wrong.

Thanks to Geoff for making us think around this very difficult topic.

Our next meeting is 15 November, 0730 at the Lantern.  Steve Hurd will tell us about developments of the Uganda Humanists Schools Trust.  The committee proposes that we will make a collection for the Trust during the meeting.  I can personally confirm that it is a very appropriate and relevant charity.

That will also be the last date for booking (and menu choices) for the festive meal at lunchtime on Sunday 16 December, Riverside Inn, Cound.

SACRE representative’s report

Chris reported that the relatively new Telford and Wrekin SACRE met in September, previously it was a joint SACRE with Shropshire.  They want Humanism included in the next agreed syllabus; as soon as possible they want some “core Humanist beliefs” for a one page document summarising main religions/belief systems.  SMSC was mentioned as being important, Spiritual, Moral, Social, Cultural education; this seems to be the fashion rather than straight RE.

In addition the SACRE is developing a Beacon award to schools attaining certain standards for RE. They have included the Humanist logo, along with the usual religious one, on the award. Successful schools would hold the award for two years initially and would include the award on letterheads so it would have wide distribution.  In addition at June’s meeting Linda Senior, of Ludlow and Marches Humanists, attended the SACRE meeting on Chris’s behalf.  They both went to the September meeting and that seems to have been acceptable.  A more active SACRE will need more people to go into schools etc.  This is amazing progress after years of stagnation and frustration!  Both Chris and Linda will go to the BHA SACRE reps meeting in November.

April meeting report

Sue Falder reports:

Humanism and RE

At the April meeting, Chris Smith gave an account of her experience as a humanist rep on the joint Shropshire Telford and Wrekin SACRE. She detailed the legal situation with regard to RE and daily worship, and defended the presence of humanists on what is essentially a committee of religious representatives whose main concern is that religion continues to be taught. She pointed out that through BHA campaigning the word `humanism’ now appears in GCSE RE syllabuses, and our representatives can continue to press for inclusivity in the wording of local syllabuses, which are the province of the SACREs in each authority, for instance suggesting words like `lifestance’  be used as well as or instead of `religion’.

Now that the two authorities have separated, Simon Nightingale will be attending the Shropshire meetings, and he and Chris hope that they will be able to argue for full inclusion onto the SACREs rather than continuing simply as observers.

Simon gave another Sunday morning talk as part of the Mike George Show on Radio Shropshire recently, in which he reflected on the changing face of RE teaching in his lifetime and the need now for real recognition of the multi-cultural nature of children’s experience.

Dying Matters Week 16th – 22nd  May

Dying Matters is a broad-based coalition set up by the National Council for Palliative Care (NCPC) to raise public awareness of dying, death and bereavement, to support the implementation of the Government’s End of Life Care Strategy. The BHA is a part of it.

The Dying Matters Coalition mission is to promote awareness and support changing knowledge, attitudes and behaviours towards dying, death and bereavement, and through this to make a ‘good death’ the norm. Everybody – whatever their age or state of health – needs to talk about their wishes towards the end of life with their friends, families and loved ones. The earlier we talk about it the easier it is emotionally and practically for everyone.

One of the facts publicised is that 70% of people say they don’t want to die in hospital, but 60% actually do.

Members tried answering a Dying Matters quiz which tested our knowledge of the practical and legal side of preparing for your death or dealing with anothers – including the average cost of a funeral (£2549) and statistics on organ transplant and donation.


The Standing Advisory Councils For Religious Education (SACREs)

What is a SACRE?

It’s a legal requirement for every school to include Religious Education (RE) in its basic curriculum and each local authority must have a SACRE to oversee that provision and to revise the locally agreed syllabus.

Why are humanists involved in SACREs?

Clearly the ideal situation would be that state schooling was secular, and religious education took place via churches. However, that prospect is receding as more and more faith schools are being set up and the position of religion in education is, if anything, becoming more entrenched.

Humanists join SACREs in the hope of broadening the scope of RE in their area to include a recognition that many people live perfectly good lives without having a faith of any kind.

How much influence do humanists have?

Nationally, the BHA has been campaigning strongly and as a result the word `humanism’ now appears in the non-statutory guidelines for RE.  Also the phrase ‘religions and beliefs’ is used more often than ‘religions’ alone, thus opening the way for exploration of non-religious approaches. However, the legal framework still stresses the teaching of  ‘the principal religions represented in Great Britain’ – a limiting definition.

Locally, there are humanist representatives on SACREs with varying amounts of influence.

What about Shropshire?

I am a co-opted member of the  joint Shropshire/ Telford and Wrekin SACRE, so can observe and contribute to discussion. However, because of the legal rules about the make-up of the SACRE, I have no right to be involved in the syllabus revision committee and have no vote. (This is another area of BHA campaigning.)

The RE advisors and other members of the SACRE are not hostile to humanism and are open to suggestions for inclusive syllabus material. I hope that in the near future, the BHA will come up with helpful material for this; in the meantime I shall try to find time to relate some of the educational resources that are available to the suggested teaching themes and recommend them to the local authorities.

If anyone would be interested in representing humanism on the local SACRE or helping to relate humanist resources to teaching, I’d be very glad of the support.

Sue Falder

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