All non-faith schools will be forced to teach non-religious views following a landmark judgment by the High Court that ruled the Education Secretary unlawfully excluded atheism from a new GCSE.
The decision was met with fierce opposition by religious groups which argued "humanistic ideas already dominate the rest of the curriculum", while teachers warned a slow official response might risk wasting valuable teaching time and resources. The ruling was a victory for three families, supported by the British Humanist Association, who claimed Nicky Morgan had taken a "skewed" approach and was failing to reflect in schools the pluralistic nature of the UK.
Allowing their application for judicial review, Mr Justice Warby, sitting in London, ruled there had been "a breach of the duty to take care that information or knowledge included in the curriculum is conveyed in a pluralistic manner".
Changes to Religious Studies GCSE subject content were announced last February, leading to complaints over the priority given to religious views - in particular Buddhism, Christianity, Catholic Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism. David Wolfe QC, for the three families, told the judge at a recent hearing there was widespread concern "about the Secretary of State's failure to comply with her duty of neutrality and impartiality as between religious and other beliefs".
Ruling in favour of the humanists, the judge said the Education Secretary "has made an error of law in her interpretation of the education statutes". Following the judgement, the Government is expected to work alongside pressure groups to make sure changes are introduced.
However, the Department for Education last night insisted the Religious Studies GCSE "ensures pupils understand the diversity of religious beliefs in Great Britain" by letting pupils choose the study of both religious and non-religious views.
Simon Calvert, of the Christian Institute, said: "Humanistic ideas already dominate the rest of the curriculum as it is. Why can't humanists leave RE alone? It's one of the subjects where students are encouraged to think positively about religion. Children don't have to learn about maths in history lessons, so why do they have to learn about atheism in religious education? Anne Heavey, of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said the Government needed to provide a swift response on the possible changes of the curriculum or it risked "chaos" in schools.
She said: "Both the Government and the awarding bodies need to respond fully and quickly to this. Otherwise this will lead to great confusion among teachers. This is likely to waste valuable teaching time."
A DfE spokesman said: “Our new RS GCSE ensures pupils understand the diversity of religious beliefs in Great Britain through the study of more than one religion, an important part of our drive to tackle segregation and ensure pupils are properly prepared for life in modern Britain.
“It is also designed to ensure pupils develop knowledge and understanding of both religious and non-religious beliefs. Today’s judgment does not challenge the content or structure of that new GCSE and the judge has been clear it is in no way unlawful. His decision will also not affect the current teaching of the RS GCSE in classrooms. We will carefully consider the judgment before deciding on our next steps.”
This is from the London Daily Telegraph, 26 November 2015.