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Religious Education

Religious Education and the Law

Legal requirements:

What does the legislation about RE in England say?

RE is for all pupils:

  • Every pupil has a legal entitlement to religious education (RE).
  • RE is a necessary part of a ‘broad and balanced curriculum’ and must be provided for all registered pupils in state-funded schools in England, including those in the sixth form, unless withdrawn by their parents (or withdrawing themselves if they are aged 18 or over).
  • This requirement does not apply for children below compulsory school age (although there are many examples of good practice of RE in nursery classes).
  • Special schools should ensure that every pupil receives RE ‘as far as is practicable’.
  • The ‘basic’ school curriculum includes the national curriculum, RE and relationships and sex education.

RE is locally determined, not nationally:

  • A locally agreed syllabus is a statutory syllabus for RE recommended by an Agreed Syllabus Conference for adoption by a local authority.
  • Local authority-maintained schools without a religious character must follow the locally agreed syllabus.
  • Voluntary aided schools with a religious character should provide RE in accordance with the trust deed or religious designation of the school unless parents request the locally agreed syllabus. The Anglican Dioceses of Birmingham and Lichfield have been involved in developing this syllabus via SACREs. It is a good fit with the work of both VA and VC schools, especially as it includes Units which are complimentary to those from ‘Understanding Christianity’ (‘UC’) which Anglican schools are already using.
  • Foundation schools and voluntary controlled schools with a religious character must follow the locally agreed syllabus for all pupils unless parents request RE in accordance with the trust deed or religious designation of the school.
  • Religious Education is also compulsory in academies and free schools, as set out in their funding agreements. Academies may use the local agreed syllabus, or a different locally agreed syllabus (with permission of the SACRE concerned), or devise their own curriculum, in line with the law on RE. This agreed syllabus has been written to support academies in our local area to meet the requirements of their funding agreement. Academy use of the syllabus is warmly welcomed by SACRE, which has a concern for all the pupils in Sandwell.

RE is multi-faith:

  • The RE curriculum drawn up by a SACRE or used by academy or free school ‘shall reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian, while taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain’.

As education policy changes, the legal requirement for RE for all registered pupils remains unchanged. RE is an entitlement for all pupils on the roll of every school, unless they have been withdrawn by their parents from RE.

The right of withdrawal from RE

This was first granted when the curriculum subject of RE was called ‘religious instruction’ and carried with it possible connotations of induction in the Christian faith. RE is very different now – open, broad, exploring a range of religious and non religious worldviews. However, in the UK, parents still have the right to withdraw their children from RE on the grounds that they wish to provide their own religious education. (School Standards and Framework Act 1998 S71 (3).) This will be parents’ responsibility. However, it is good practice to talk to parents to ensure that they understand the broad-minded aims and values of RE before they exercise this right. Students aged 18 or over have the right to withdraw themselves from RE. Schools should make a policy statement to parents about RE and its multi faith nature on their website and at admission. It makes sense to include in this a policy statement about the inclusive nature of the subject.