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RS syllabus 'not unlawful' DfE says

04 December 2015


A HIGH COURT ruling last week on the reformed GCSE Religious Studies syllabus did not challenge the content of the syllabus, a response from the Department for Education (DfE) says.

Mr Justice Warby’s ruling followed a hearing last month at which lawyers for three families, backed by the British Humanist Association, argued that it was unlawful not to offer a non-religious world-view alongside six traditional religions as a discrete option for study (News, 13 November).

The new GCSE syllabus, which will be taught in schools from next September, requires students to spend half their course studying two religions, and allows them to concentrate on philosophy and ethics, which could include Humanism, for the other half.

The judge said: "It is not of itself unlawful to permit an RS GCSE to be created which is wholly devoted to the study of religion."

But, he said, the Department made an "error of law" when it asserted, in an introduction to the new exam, that it "will fulfil the entirety of the state’s (religious education) duties" if schools interpreted this to mean that non-religious views need not be taught. "The assertion thus represents a breach of the duty to take care that information or knowledge in the curriculum is conveyed in a pluralistic manner."

The DfE response said that the judge had made it clear that there was no requirement in domestic or human-rights law to give "equal air-time" to all shades of belief. "This judgment does not require the Department to amend the content or structure of the reformed RS GCSE." Nothing in this judgment affected previously issued guidance to faith schools.

In a statement from the British Humanist Association, which interpreted the judgment differently, the organisation’s chief executive, Andrew Copson, said: "We look forward to engaging with the Department in ensuring that the full implications of the judgment are implemented in the education system."

Commenting on the judgment, the chief executive of the RE Council, Rudolf Eliott Lockhart, said: "We have always maintained that non-religious world-views are important and relevant to good RE."

A C of E spokesman said that the Church’s Education Office had worked with the Department to develop the content of the RS syllabus. "We will keep in touch with any developments," he said.

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