Humanists UK leads the national campaign opposing the state funding of religious schools and challenges religious discrimination in admissions, employment, and the curriculum. Since 2018, its Education Campaigns Manager has been Dr Ruth Wareham - who joins us having spent over a decade becoming one of the country’s leading academics researching religious schools.
Dr Wareham now leads Humanists UK’s work to defend the rights of children, parents, carers, and teachers in our education system, by campaigning for:
• An end to the state funding of religious schools and religious discrimination in school admissions;
• The eradication of closed-minded and narrow religious education and compulsory collective worship in schools; and
• The introduction of comprehensive relationships and sex education in all schools, inclusive of LGBT pupils and accurate in its provision of information about safe sex and women’s reproductive rights.
Over a third of all state schools in England and Wales - more than 7,000 schools - are already run by religious organisations. And in Northern Ireland, the proportion is much, much higher. These are schools that are legally entitled to discriminate against children on the basis of beliefs they are too young to confidently hold for themselves, and which serve to divide communities rather than bring them together. Shockingly, shamefully, the UK Government seems committed not only to increasing the number of English religious schools, but to extending their powers to divide and discriminate too.
It is hard to remember a Government so intent on subjugating the better interests of children to the vested interests of religion.
We want schools in which children are free to form their own beliefs and find their own sense of meaning and purpose, without religious interference. We want an education system that reflects the UK’s diversity and recognises the strength of this, celebrating shared human values rather than emphasising how we differ. And we want a society that reaps the benefits of children from different backgrounds learning with, from, and about one another in open and inclusive schools. That, sadly, is not currently the case.
This is why the work of our Education Campaigns Manager has never been more important than it is now.
Key successes this year include:
• Successfully campaigning to maintain the existing limits on religious admissions at state schools in England, meaning that the overwhelming majority of new schools will be accessible to all families, irrespective of religion or belief. To put the scale of this achievement into context, proposals to remove the cap on religious selection were supported by the Prime Minister, backed by the Catholic Church and the Board of Deputies of British Jews (organisations that tend to get their way on education matters), needed no parliamentary approval or change in legislation, and were described by civil servants as a fait accompli when they were introduced. Our work defied the odds and in the course of doing so we brought together a broad coalition of supporters, spanning everyone from former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Chief Inspector of Ofsted Amanda Spielman, the general secretaries of the National Education Union, and even Justine Greening, the former Education Secretary who (at the PM’s request) introduced the proposals and then was subsequently resigned after refusing to follow through on them.
• Securing the first ever Government commitment for new legislation to crackdown on illegal religious schools, ending decades of inaction on one of the education system’s gravest failings. Our Education Campaigner was speaking up for the children trapped in these schools long before anyone else was willing to and this year a groundbreaking joint investigation which aired on BBC News at Six and Ten, revealed more than 50 reports of abuse and neglect since 2014.
• Securing recommendations from the Commission on Religious Education that the subject of RE should be renamed Religion and Worldviews, should be fully inclusive of humanism, and should come with a national entitlement to certain curriculum content - all in line with our very long standing policy.
• Repeatedly revealing creationist teaching at both state and private schools in England, provoking the Government to update its official guidance to say: ‘independent schools may teach creationism as part of a belief system but it should not be presented as having a similar or superior evidence base to scientific theories.’ This is the first time the Government has warned private schools against such teaching.
• Forcing the Welsh Government to overturn a more than two decade-old ban on humanists being members of the local bodies responsible for setting and overseeing Religious Education in schools. The announcement came in response to legal action taken by Humanists UK and Wales Humanists.
• Exposing a state religious school in London redacting its textbooks to remove mentions of ‘homosexuals’ and women’s freedoms, as well as banning girls from visiting public libraries unaccompanied outside of school. The exposé prompted Ofsted to investigate, and the school has since been put in special measures.
• After 30 years of humanist campaigning since the introduction of section 28 in 1988, finally succeeding in making LGBT-inclusive relationships and sex education compulsory in both English and Welsh schools.
• Achieving a huge advance for children’s rights by prompting the Government to give young people in England the right to make their own decision about opting out from sex education, rather than being entirely subject to their parents decisions.
• Publishing the research reports No Room at the Inn and Non-Religious Need Not Apply, respectively revealing the extent to which Church of England schools continue to religiously discriminate in their admission arrangements (contrary to the Church’s claims), and the fact that nearly half of all state secondary religious schools in England have admissions policies that specifically exclude the non-religious.
• Intervening at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to criticise the growing threat of religious school providers using false appeals to religious freedom as a means of justifying intolerance towards LGBT people’.
Further actions include:
• Responding to all relevant official consultations, including a Department for Education call for evidence on Relationships and Sex Education; a Commission on Religious Education consultation on the future of the subject; a consultation on the Government’s Integrated Communities Strategy; a request for evidence and views on reformed Independent School Standards guidance as it relates to religious schools; and an inquiry on elective home education.
• Supporting and advising hundreds of parents and carers whose children have been discriminated against in the education system on the grounds of their beliefs.
• Meeting ministers and civil servants, and briefing MPs and peers, particularly members of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG), on legislation related to religious schools and education in Parliament, as well as organising debates in the House of Commons and House of Lords on relevant issues, and a packed meeting of the APPHG on religious schools specifically.
• Generating significant media attention for Humanists UK campaigns work, including stories in every national newspaper, and coverage on national and local TV and radio stations throughout England and Wales.
• Sitting on the steering groups of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, the Sex Education Forum, and the Fair Admissions Campaign, and working alongside other organisations like the Religious Education Council and the Equality and Human Rights Commission on issues of shared concern.
With your donations, we’ll be able to employ our Education Campaigns Manager throughout 2019 and continue to fund our work to curb the rise of religious influence and privilege in the education system. Any money donated over and above our target will be used exclusively on furthering Humanists UK’s n campaigns.
If you’re a UK taxpayer, please also indicate that Humanists UK can claim Gift Aid on your donation so that we can reclaim 25p tax from HMRC for every £1 you donate.