Richy Thompson

Campaign against faith schools

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raised of £40,000 target
by 738 supporters
Humanists UK

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We bring non-religious people together to champion ideas for a better society.


The work of our faith schools campaign must be allowed to continue into 2023. It is more important now than ever before.

It feels like society is drifting into a deeper state of division by the day, so it is vital that children from different backgrounds learn with, from, and about one another, in open and inclusive schools with equally open and inclusive curriculums. Please, donate generously today.

Over a third of all state schools in England and Wales – more than 7,000 – are run by religious groups. In Northern Ireland, the proportion is considerably higher. These schools are legally entitled to discriminate against children on the basis of beliefs they are too young to confidently hold for themselves, which serves to divide communities rather than bring them together. Shockingly, the UK Government is committed not only to increasing the number of English religious schools, but to establish more that are 100% religiously selective in their admissions! And by not taking a strong stance on curriculum content time and time again, it has permitted the rights of children to be swept aside in favour of the vested interests of religious groups.

We believe that children should be given the freedom to form their own beliefs and discover their own sense of meaning and purpose, without imposing any religion. 

And we think it’s just as important that all schools adequately reflect the diversity of our society, while emphasising our shared human values and how to live well together. 

Let’s be clear about the ethics here: Discriminating against children is wrong. Using religion to divide communities is wrong. And forcing beliefs onto children before they’re old enough to decide what they believe for themselves is wrong.

Our faith schools campaign is aimed squarely at righting these wrongs in our education system. 

We are the leading experts on faith schools and their impact on society. Our dedicated Education Campaigner has four crystal clear objectives. He is working to: 

  • End religious discrimination in school admissions

  • Pursue reform of the school curriculum, including Religious Education. We want RE to be an inclusive, impartial, objective, fair, balanced, and relevant subject allowing pupils to explore a variety of religions and humanism 

  • Replace compulsory worship in schools with inclusive assemblies 

  • Shut down illegal religious schools.

This work is so important, but incredibly expensive.

As a charity funded almost entirely by public donations, we won’t be able to continue funding this vital team without support in the form of donations from people like you. Please, give generously if you can.

Key successes this year include:

We had significant campaign success in May, when the UK Government’s Schools Bill was published containing long-awaited measures to tackle the scourge of illegal schools. We used the opportunity of the Schools Bill to ensure that amendments were tabled to make RE more inclusive of humanism, and to replace collective worship with inclusive assemblies

However, with the formation of a new Government, this Bill is under threat – making our continued involvement even more important.

 In parallel with the Schools Bill, we worked with Baroness Burt to draft her own Private Member’s Bill on inclusive RE. The Education (Non-religious Philosophical Convictions) Bill, which would revolutionise the subject, will have its Second Reading in the House of Lords on 3 February.

In Wales, we celebrated the result of years of campaigning as state-funded schools officially rolled out a changed curriculum replacing Religious Education with Religion, Values, and Ethics, fully incorporating the teaching of non-religious worldviews such as humanism.

A High Court ruling in Northern Ireland found that laws requiring all schools in Northern Ireland to provide faith-based Christian religious education (RE) and collective worship breach human rights legislation.

2022 saw two landmark education Acts in Northern Ireland gain Royal Assent. We fed into their development and supported their passage through the Assembly, including giving oral evidence to MLAs for the first time: 

  • The Integrated Education Act will see more integrated schools open, which will over time help different communities come together

  • The Fair Employment (School Teachers) Act will end the ability of schools to discriminate on religious grounds when appointing teachers

We successfully challenged a school in Worcestershire which had a narrow RE curriculum – under the threat of legal action from us the school backed down and agreed to include modules on non-religious worldviews such as humanism. 

We have supported applications and made sure that more humanists gain membership of their local SACRE, the group that sets the local RE syllabus. Often this is quite a challenge as some groups are highly resistant to humanist voices. Out of the 152 in England, we have now secured humanist reps on 114 of them.

At the start of the year, faith-based admissions were abolished in 35 Suffolk schools.

Further actions include:

After the dropping of the Schools Bill, we are forcefully putting pressure on the Government to make sure the draft legislation to tackle illegal religious schools returns before the next election.

Although we welcomed the changes in Wales, the UK Government’s position on reforms to RE in England has remained non-committal. We have to continue to urge the other governments of the UK to follow Wales’ lead, making sure humanists are properly included and that humanism is taught alongside religions.

 We need to reach out to other parents to highlight where non-inclusive RE is happening, and undertake further research to build an evidence base.

In Northern Ireland we need to monitor carefully the implementation of the new education acts and stand up for the rights of the non-religious where necessary.

We are currently taking legal action against a local authority refusing to accept a humanist as a full member of the SACRE (the body that sets the local RE syllabus and oversees collective worship provision).

With your support, we can slow and stop the spread of faith schools – and advance a vision of a better, fairer education system – for every child, and every parent, and every community. Will you help us?

With your donations, we’ll be able to 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 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.

Thank you for reading this far. Please, donate generously today.

Richy Thompson

Director of Public Affairs and Policy, Humanists UK

About the charity

Humanists UK

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Humanists UK is the national charity working for a tolerant world where reason and kindness prevail. Our campaigns and services help be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have, and together we champion ideas for a better society. Humanists UK: Think for yourself, act for everyone.

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