From The Inter Faith Network for the UK 7 May 2009
Draft Guidance on Religious Education in English schools
The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) has published draft non-statutory guidance on the provision of religious education (RE) in maintained schools in England. The guidance covers the position of RE within the school curriculum and the roles of those who have a responsibility, involvement or interest in the subject. The guidance is designed to supersede that given in Circular 1/94, which also covered collective worship in schools, which the present draft guidance does not; and is intended for a variety of users including representatives of religion and belief communities locally and nationally, and Standing Advisory Councils for Religious Education (SACREs).
The draft of this document has been prepared under the auspices of a Steering Group (supported by a Writing Group) established jointly by DCSF and the Religious Education Council for England and Wales.
The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) is leading a consultation on this guidance and any organisations or individuals with an interest in RE are invited to respond to the consultation by 24 July. The text of the draft can be downloaded and the questionnaire on it accessed via the QCA website at www.qca.org.uk/~
Primary School Curriculum and Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHE)
Sir Jim Rose, a former Chief Inspector of Primary Schools, has been carrying out a review of the curriculum in English primary schools, in the course of which there have been a variety of consultations with teachers, parents and education experts. His report and recommendations were published on 30 April and can be found at www.dcsf.gov.uk/~ His curriculum proposals are based on his conclusion that literacy, numeracy, ICT and personal development should form the core of this.
The proposals envisage a shift away from a set of specified subjects to broader curriculum themes. The new curriculum has been reorganised into six areas of learning, which are:
The areas of learning will continue to incorporate traditional subjects, such as English, mathematics, science, history and geography for example -but will also contain more provision for ICT, personal development and health and wellbeing and include essential skills for learning and life.
Primary schools in England will remain, however, under a statutory obligation to provide Religious Education to their pupils in accordance with the relevant agreed RE syllabus.
On 30 April, proposals relating to the curriculum in English schools for Personal, Health and Economic Education (PSHE) were also published. The Government has accepted the proposals first published last October in a review led by Sir Alasdair MacDonald that the subject should be taught to all pupils from age 5, with sex and relationships education to be compulsory in all schools in England from 2011. The Government have confirmed their previous undertaking that church and other faith schools will be allowed to teach the subject according to their own values. The Government has also confirmed that the rights of the "very small number of parents who wish to withdraw their children from sex and relationships education" will be respected.
Responses to the consultations on the proposals for both the primary curriculum and for PSHE need to be submitted by 24 July. Details of the consultations can be found on the QCA website at www.qca.org.uk/~
European Commission proposal for an Equal Treatment Directive
Network Circular 09/09 gave information about the Government's Equality Bill which has now been introduced into the House of Commons and which was published on 27 April. In a separate Europe-wide exercise, the European Commission has been working on the draft of an Equal Treatment Directive for submission to the European Council of Ministers. On 5 May, the Government published a consultation document on this, which can be downloaded from www.equalities.gov.uk/~. The closing date for responses to the consultation is 28 July.
The purpose of the proposed European Commission Directive is to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, disability, age and sexual orientation, outside the areas of employment and vocational training which were covered in the Ministerial Directive adopted in 2000. As the consultation document makes clear, there are many issues still to be resolved in relation to the Directive, but the UK Government is in principle supportive of its aims. The Government is consulting in particular on the impact of the draft Directive in those areas where its proposals are, or might be, at variance with the current and proposed law and on the impact of the proposals on businesses, individuals and others. The Government's Equality Bill extends or harmonises protection in some of the same areas where the draft Directive is seeking to introduce provisions, and specific 'crossover areas' between the draft Directive and the Bill are highlighted throughout the consultation document. It says that the Government will endeavour to ensure that the timetables for the implementation of the Equality Bill and adopted Directive are complementary, minimising the cost of compliance, and that the Government will seek to minimise any changes in law that may be required as a result of the Directive.
The Directive proposes to eliminate harassment based on age, disability, sexual orientation and religion or belief. The consultation document notes that this proposal was previously considered as part of the extensive consultation for the Government's present Equality Bill, but its inclusion in relation to sexual orientation and religion or belief was rejected as the consultation did not highlight a need for such protection in addition to the protection already provided from direct or indirect discrimination. The consultation document also expresses some concerns about the extent of European Community competence in relation to some elements of the draft Directive beyond the supply of goods, facilities and services. The Government believes that it is important that member states retain the ability to determine the arrangements for providing public services.
It is interesting to note that one of the factors leading to the development in recent years in this country of a new legislative framework on discrimination and equality, together with the setting up of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, was the adoption in 2000 of the European Council of Ministers' Directive on discrimination in the field of employment, covering the six 'strands' of disability, gender, race, age, sexual orientation and religion or belief covered by the new Directive proposal.