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Welsh Government proposal to change the name of RE and remove the right of withdrawal

The Welsh Government has announced that it is consulting on key potential changes to the teaching of Religious Education (RE).  The reforms up for consultation include a potential change of the name of the subject to ‘Religions and Worldviews’ and the ending of the right of parents to withdraw their children from RE lessons.

While the proposed new name marks a positive direction of travel, there are serious reasons for concern about the name that the Welsh Government is considering.  The REC supports the recommendations of the Commission on Religious Education (CoRE) that related to RE in England and which included a recommendation for a change of name to ‘Religion and Worldviews’.  The Welsh Government’s proposal specifies ‘religions’ rather than ‘religion’.  This makes a significant difference.

The REC’s Chief Executive, Rudolf Eliott Lockhart, said:

The Welsh Government’s proposal for a new name for the subject is nearly a great choice, but it falls short by adding one letter too many and referring to ‘religions’ rather than ‘religion’.  While the difference might seem minor, the implications are big.  ‘Religions’ describes a set of content to be studied, whereas ‘religion’ would open up the subject to a higher-order conceptual approach.  Young people need to understand the conceptual category of ‘religion’ along with other concepts such as ‘secularity’, and ‘spirituality’.  This conceptual approach would provide far greater support for the Humanities Area of Learning and Experience and would be better signposted if the name chosen was ‘Religion and Worldviews’, as recommended by the Commission on Religious Education.

Moreover, the proposed name risks making it seem as if ‘religions’ and ‘worldviews’ are equivalent terms with the latter meaning the non-religious equivalent of the former.  Too many people will see this name and think that ‘religions’ covers the religious part of the subject and that therefore ‘worldviews’ is where the non-religious part is to be found.  This is not the case: worldviews is a category that includes both religious and non-religious approaches to life.  We all have a worldview, and all learners should see the subject as one where they can explore their own worldview and critically engage with those of others.  The subject name should reflect this.  The name ‘Religion and Worldviews’ would therefore signify greater conceptual sophistication and a more inclusive integration of the religious and the non-religious.

The consultation also offers an opportunity to comment on the Welsh Government’s plans to remove the parental right to withdraw their child from RE.  This goes further than the recommendation of CoRE which called for a review of withdrawal and for work with school leaders to develop a code of good practice for managing the right of withdrawal.

The REC’s Chief Executive, Rudolf Eliott Lockhart, said:

The proposal to remove the right of withdrawal in RE will be welcomed by many who want to end RE’s exceptionalism, but will prove highly contentious for some who see it as a necessary safeguard.  If the Welsh Government do want to remove the right of withdrawal from RE, and want to avoid legal challenges, it will be necessary to ensure that the subject and its delivery will be objective, critical, and pluralistic in all settings.  It is not yet clear that this is the case.

It is regrettable that the consultation’s questions combine the parental right to withdraw their child from Religious Education with the equivalent right to withdraw from Relationships and Sex Education.  The two subjects’ place in the curriculum is justified on very different grounds and you should not assume that the need for a right of withdrawal from one means there is an equivalent need in the other.  The rights of withdrawal from each should be considered separately.

Full details on the consultation are available here.  The consultation closes on 28th November 2019.

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