Judgment on GCSE Religious Content Hailed as 'Common Sense'

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Three families who said the religious studies GCSE their children would study illegally prioritised religious views over non-religious ones have today won their case in the High Court.



The case of (Fox and others ) v Secretary of State for Education was brought by a trio of parents who asserted that the new subject content document governing the GCSE Religious Studies syllabus gave unlawful priority to the teaching of religious views over non-religious views, including those such as humanism.

Today, Mr Justice Warby agreed with their assertion that it did not meet the requirements for pluralism and equal treatment.

Dan Rosenberg, Partner at law firm Simpson Millar LLP represented the families. He explained: "This is a good and common sense result which reflects well upon British society and values. It is important that children at this formative age (14-16) gain exposure to the wide range of beliefs that are held in this country, including non-religious beliefs and this judgment ensures that."

The Department for Education's position was that its subject content was consistent with the requirements for the statutory provision of religious education.

"This was challenged by three parents and their children who would be of an age that meant they would study the new GCSE curriculum," added Dan Rosenberg. "The case was supported by the British Humanist Association and the parents had beliefs and values that did not have a religious basis.

"They argued that the government's position would lead to those responsible for framing pupil's curriculums to wrongly believe that religious education can be delivered at key stage 4 by nothing more than the religious studies GCSE."

However, the court found that the Government's assertion made in respect of the subject content was wrong.

"The Court agreed that those reading the subject content would assume the delivery of the Religious Studies GCSE will fulfil the state's legal obligations as to religious education, when that would not necessarily be the case.

"This was highly significant because it meant those responsible for religious education would rely exclusively on GCSEs specified in accordance with the subject content, something that could be enough to meet the state's RE obligations but will not necessarily be so."

Dan explains the Department for Education will now have to consider its options carefully.

"It is now for the Government to react to the Court's decision and clarify to all those involved in the setting of RE curriculums that the new religious studies GCSE will not necessarily be sufficient by itself to discharge their statutory obligations to provide religious education to 14-16 year olds.

It is for the Government to provide clear guidance to all involved how the wider religious education obligations at Key Stage 4 can be met in light of this Judgment"
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Kate Bielby, one of the parents acting as a claimant in the case, commented, 'My daughter and I are delighted by today's decision and the clear statement that it makes in support of equality of religion and belief. It is long past time that the beliefs of the non-religious were treated on an equal footing with religions in the school curriculum. I am confident that whatever changes are introduced on the back of this judgment, Religious Studies will be a fairer, more inclusive subject, benefitting all children whatever their religious or non-religious background.'

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association, said "We have made the case for many decades that the school curriculum on religions should include major non-religious worldviews such as humanism. It is great news that the Court has now said the law is with us. This is a stunning victory for the three families who stood up to the Government on this issue. It is also a victory for the vast majority of people who believe in the importance of a religious education curriculum that is inclusive, balanced, and pluralistic, and which contributes to mutual understanding between people of all religions and none.

'We look forward to working with the Government to ensure that the changes required by the judgment are implemented and hope they will use this as an opportunity to improve the GCSE for the benefit of all children. Continuing to exclude the views of a huge number of Britons, in the face of majority public opinion and all expert advice, would only be to the detriment of education in this country and a shameful path to follow.'


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