Commission on RE calls for major shake-up of subject in English schools

The Commission on Religious Education (RE) has published its interim report, calling for a new national entitlement to RE applying to all state-funded schools, including religious schools, and for a consultation to take place on a change to the subject’s name so as to better reflect its inclusion of both non-religious worldviews and broad discussion of philosophy and ethics.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented,‘Education about religious and humanist beliefs is vitally important for any child growing up in Britain today. But if that education isn’t effective, if it excludes people with certain beliefs, if it glosses over difference or equally fails to emphasise shared values, if it presents only a simplistic, shop-window version of religion and belief, or doesn’t allow children to come to their own conclusions about life’s big questions, then it isn’t doing the job.

‘The Commission seems to share this vision for the reform of the subject, which is encouraging. We will continue to work both with the Commission and with other educators and religion and belief organisations in delivering what are our shared ambitions for the subject.’

The Commission was launched in July 2016 by the Religious Education Council of England and Wales, of which Humanists UK is a member, and over the course of two years will ‘review the legal, education and policy frameworks for RE before making recommendations to the Government for the subject’s reform.’

In its interim report, published on 21 September, the Commission has made a number of preliminary recommendations, as well as indicated which issues it will be consulting on further before publishing its final report next year. The key recommendations include:

A national entitlement to RE that would apply to all state schools, including religious schools, which would take the form of ‘a basic statement of what all pupils are entitled to…not a national syllabus or curriculum’

A consultation on ‘removing the requirement for local authorities to hold Agreed Syllabus Conferences’ to make way for the national entitlement, while changing the role of the local bodies that oversee RE (SACREs)

The equal inclusion of humanism in RE and the inclusion of humanists on the bodies that set and oversee RE syllabuses locally, should they endure

The revision of inspection frameworks to ‘ensure that inspectors monitor whether schools meet the national entitlement for RE.’

A consultation on changing the name of RE to better reflect a subject that discusses broader responses to questions of meaning, purpose, and morality, and takes a more inclusive approach to the diversity of and within different worldviews.

The interim report also sets out draft text for the proposed national entitlement, stating, among other things, that the subject should capture ‘the diversity of religious and non-religious worldviews and ways of life that exist locally, nationally and globally’, and that RE should ‘equip pupils to develop their own beliefs…in the light of their reflections on the worldviews they have studied’.

The recommendations are broadly in line with the suggestions made by Humanists UK in its formal response to the Commission’s first consultation period. The response called for an end to the RE lottery that currently characterises the subject, suggesting that all schools, including faith schools, be required to teach critical, objective, and pluralistic RE, and for an end to the fragmented system of locally agreed syllabuses.


For further comment or information please contact Humanist UK Education Campaigner Jay Harman on or 07970 393 680.

Read the response of Humanists UK to the Commission on RE’s call for evidence:

Read more about Humanists UK’s work on RE:

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Humanists UK recently changed its name from the British Humanist Association: