Welsh Government announces sweeping changes to RE and RSE in proposed education reforms

The Welsh Government today announced it will consult on a range of education reforms, including the removal of parental rights to withdraw their children from RE and RSE in all state-funded schools, seemingly including faith schools, and a plan to rename RE to ‘Religions and Worldviews’.

Wales Humanists, which campaigns for inclusive RE and RSE and has previously provided submissions to the Welsh Government on proposed curriculum reforms, has set out its response to each of the key proposals announced by the Government below.

On renaming RE to ‘Religions and Worldviews’:

The Welsh Government is proposing to rename Religious Education (RE) to ‘Religions and Worldviews’. This comes after the Government announced earlier this year it would change the law on RE to include the teaching of humanism on an equal footing to the major religions and brings Wales into line with the recommendations of the landmark Commission on RE report that proposed such changes in England.

Education Minister Kirsty Williams justified the move by saying: ‘“Religions and Worldviews” better reflects teaching practice within the new curriculum, and allows for the exploration of a range of religious and philosophical beliefs, as well as other beliefs and worldviews, including non-religious worldviews.’

Wales Humanists coordinator Kathy Riddick commented: ‘The move to rename Religious Education (RE) to the more inclusive title of Religions and Worldviews is a hugely welcome step toward ensuring that Welsh children receive a well-rounded education about different religions and humanism that does not seek to impose one perspective on pupils but instead helps them to understand the range of beliefs that people hold.’

On removing parental rights to withdraw their children from RE:

Also announced is a proposal to remove parents’ rights to withdraw their children from RE in state-funded schools, including faith schools which can determine their own syllabus and teach “confessional” RE or religious instruction. This involves instructing students to follow a certain religion, whereas RE outside of faith schools (which Wales Humanists supports) only teaches pupils about religions and humanism in an impartial way. Currently in England and Wales, parents have the right to withdraw their children from all forms of RE but under these proposals, this will stop, raising serious concerns that children from non- or other religious backgrounds attending faith schools will be indoctrinated into religious perspectives against their parents’ wishes.

Kathy Riddick commented: ‘We have grave concerns about parents losing their right to withdraw their children from RE in faith schools where they could be subjected to a heavy-handed religious instruction that enforces a particular faith-based perspective. Under human rights law, this constitutes indoctrination and breaches the rights of parents and pupils to freedom of religion or belief. Therefore any such a move is likely to be entirely unlawful.’

On comprehensive RSE for all students with no parental right to withdraw:

The Welsh Government announced it is 'minded to remove’ the parental right to withdraw from objective, age-appropriate RSE on the grounds that the subject is of fundamental importance to keep children safe and ensure their rights are protected. The Government has also announced it will rewrite the guidance for the subject to be more detailed, following concerns raised by Wales Humanists. Wales Humanists will be a part of the expert panel overseeing this process.

Kathy Riddick commented: ‘RSE is a fact-based subject designed to provide pupils with the information they need to grow up healthy, happy, and safe in modern British society. We have long held concerns that some parents opt their children out of receiving this important education because of perceived conflicts with their own religious beliefs. It is imperative that the Government stands by its commitment to give children the information they need at school to have a good level of physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.’


For more information contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or 020 7324 3078.

Read the Welsh Government announcement: https://gov.wales/welsh-government-working-teachers-parents-and-students-ensure-learners-have-access-broad-and

Read about the Welsh Government’s move to change the law on RE to include humanism: https://humanism.org.uk/2019/01/28/welsh-government-to-change-law-on-school-re-to-include-humanism/

Read about Wales Humanists’ response to the previous consultations: https://humanism.org.uk/2019/04/16/wales-humanists-pushes-for-more-inclusive-re-and-rse/

Read more about Wales Humanists’ work on:

Religions and worldviews: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/school-curriculum/religious-education/

Relationships and sexuality education: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/school-curriculum/pshe-and-sex-and-relationships-education/

Wales Humanists is a part of Humanists UK, the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefiting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.