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Ministers turn down pleas to include humanism in RE

Ministers have rejected pleas to give pupils the option to study humanism in new RE exam courses, despite a consultation showing widespread support for its inclusion.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams was among the religious leaders who called for humanism to feature alongside major world faiths in the new GCSEs and A-levels.

But today the government announced it was sticking to its plans for the new courses to focus on religious beliefs, in a decision the British Humanist Association (BHA) described as “bitterly disappointing”.

A consultation on the proposed content of the new qualifications attracted some 2,000 responses, with 94 per cent opposing the draft specifications.

Only 65 respondents said the content for GCSE was appropriate, and at A-level only 70 people agreed with the syllabus. About 1,700 responses came as part of a campaign orchestrated by the BHA.

Last week, Dr Williams was one of the signatories to an open letter urging ministers to reverse the decision to exclude humanism.

But in its official response to the consultation, the government said it would be inappropriate to include the systematic study of non-religious beliefs in RE courses.

Students will still have the opportunity to learn about non-religious world views, even though humanism will not feature on the list of world religions. Pupils will have to pick two from the list to study in depth for the GCSE, which will be introduced from 2016, alongside the new A-level.

“As these are qualifications in religious studies, it is right that the content primarily focuses on developing students’ understanding of different religious beliefs,” the government said.

“A simultaneous focus on humanism would detract from an in-depth treatment of religion and the comparative study of two religions.”

But Andrew Copson, chief executive of the BHA, said the decision not to include humanism was inexplicable.

“We are bitterly disappointed that humanism is to be largely excluded. With each generation being less religious than the previous one, it is vital that humanism be included,” he said.

“Today’s political decision is unfathomable and time will prove its futility.”

Related stories: 

Rowan Williams: include humanism in new RE courses - February 5, 2015

Religious studies: pupils must study two faiths for new GCSE - November 7, 2014

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