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New guidance in Wales has clarified the position of non-religious people sitting on SACREs in Wales. Kirsty Williams AM, the Cabinet Secretary for Education in Wales, in a letter states “representatives from non-religious belief systems may be appointed to Group A of a SACRE or ASC, to ensure that SACREs/ASCs fully reflect the beliefs of the communities that they are representing”.
The guidance is clear that appointment to a SACRE is a matter for the local authority and for SACREs themselves. It also makes clear that the non-religious beliefs adhered to by the person being appointed must be analogous to a religious belief and gives the example of humanism as one such set of beliefs. Giving further detail, it clarifies that this means that the non-religious belief must have the level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion, and importance to attract protection under the European Convention of Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998.
The new guidance supersedes that which was laid out in paragraph 103 of Circular 10/94 which had been interpreted by some SACREs as preventing humanists from being appointed to their SACRE.
Commenting on the letter, Rudolf Eliott Lockhart, Chief Executive of the Religious Education Council of England and Wales said:
This is welcome clarification from the Welsh Government. I am pleased that this new guidance recognises the importance of an inclusive approach to Religious Education embracing both religious and non-religious worldviews. The Religious Education Council has consistently supported the inclusion of non-religious worldviews as an important part of a pluralist approach to our subject. It will be interesting to see whether similar guidance will be issued for SACREs in England given that the relevant legal framework is the same for both countries. Questions of SACRE membership are increasingly important given the changing patterns of religious and non-religious identification in our society: I fully expect the Commission on Religious Education to make recommendations in this area in its final report due to be published in September.