New legislation in Wales that will remove parental right of withdrawal from certain lessons is a ‘major reform’ that has been driven by secular campaigners.
According to John Denning, education officer for The Christian Institute, the Wales Curriculum Bill is exceptionally broad, but there are two areas of particular concern around the teaching of relationships and sexuality education (RSE), and the changes around RE – which will become religion, values, and ethics (RVE).
Speaking in a video interview with Simon Calvert, deputy director of The Christian Institute, Mr Denning said, ‘There is nothing in this bill that will limit the [amount of religious education] that will be given over to non-religious views and philosophical convictions. There is nothing to stop it being even more than 50 percent.’
This means all the religious element of RE could potentially be reduced to a bare minimum in Wales.
Likewise, the right of parents to take children out of religious education is being withdrawn, while non-religious beliefs will be added to the curriculum.
Mr Denning said this was a problem, as the definition of such beliefs is so broad that local authorities will have difficulty in bringing in specialists who ‘really represent the views of people who are not religious’. Instead, this may be driven largely by humanist and secularist campaigners, he surmised.
Mr Denning called the existing parental right to withdrawal an ‘important backstop’. He said, ‘The significance of this right meant the school understood it must approach the teaching of religious education in the right way, in a way that had respect for the range of views among parents.
‘It helped to establish that respect in the school for the range of views among the parent body. But atheist and secularist campaigners have long wanted change to religious education, and the argument has often been that RE has been used to indoctrinate or unfairly promote religion.
‘If that ever had been happening, there had always been the option for parents to withdraw their children from the classes. So it is ironic that if atheism is to be taught, that right of withdrawal has been taken away.’
As reported in previous editions of ET, some safeguards that used to be in place around sex education will also be ‘removed’. The 1996 Education Act put in place certain safeguards and made sure that ministers could provide guidance to make sure that sex education was taught in a particular way.
For example, the guidance was to ensure teachers were mindful of people’s religious and cultural values, and parents had a right to remove their children from the lessons. All this is set to change, despite significant debate.