Humanists threaten further court action over unlawful RE syllabus

1st June 2016 at 12:12
RE GCSE, british humanist association, dfe
The British Humanist Association (BHA) has threatened the government with further legal action if it refuses to accept that its new religious-education GCSE syllabus is unlawful

In December, the High Court ruled that the Department for Education had made “an error of law” in specifying the content for the new RE GCSE. The case, brought by three humanist parents, challenged the government’s decision to drop the teaching of non-religious world views from the new RE GCSE curriculum.

The DfE claimed the court had made its decision on a technicality. But the BHA has written to education secretary Nicky Morgan this week to challenge her department's stance and warn that it will continue to fight the implementation of the syllabus.

A spokesman for the association said that this could include taking on further legal challenges from parents. “Legal options remain open to us,” he said.

In the letter to Ms Morgan, the BHA says it stands by the curriculum guidance it has circulated to schools, laying out its understanding of the legal position. 

“Seeking to support schools and those who set syllabuses to understand their legal obligations in relation to the teaching of humanism in RE is…important and uncontroversial,” the letter says.

'Not an objective syllabus'

Setting out December's High Court ruling, Mr Justice Warby said the syallabus was unlawful, because statutory GCSEs in schools without a religious character must be “objective, critical and pluralistic”. He said that a syllabus that covered religions in detail but did not teach about non-religious world views would not meet this requirement.

The government has dismissed the BHA's insistance that it should change its syllabus, telling the National Association of Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education: “It is not for the British Humanist Association to issue legal guidance to schools”.

It added that the ruling “was based on a narrow technical point relating to the meaning of a single paragraph in a guidance document for awarding organisations”.

The Department for Education reiterated this to TES. A spokesperson added: “We have issued clear guidance for all schools. This guidance remains correct. We are clear that the British Humanist Association document has no official status and is inaccurate.”

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