Friday, 10 July 2009

SACRE Report

My visit to the East Sussex SACRE in Eastbourne on Tuesday was more memorable for the weather than the meeting itself. There was a heavy storm in the morning and another just as I left in the evening. The train I was due to catch was cancelled due to flooding at Victoria station. It seems that the prospect of the account of my adventure was not sufficiently exciting since only two members turned up to our Humanist gathering on Thursday evening.

The SACRE was well attended, though many of the people there were newcomers, apparently unfamiliar with the situation. It was necessary for the Councillors to select a new Chairman from among their number since the previous chairman lost his seat at the local elections. Most of the time was devoted to debating the SACRE's response to the consultation on the draft "Non-Statutory Guidance" for RE issued by the DCSF. The main concern of the RE Consultant to the SACRE (Susan Thompson) seemed to be whether the phrase "Religion and Belief" used throughout the document had legal force. I think it does because of changes in legislation since 1994.

I suppose we should be happy that page 20 recommends that "there are opportunities for all pupils to study ... secular philosophies such as humanism" but this is only after they have studied Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, and possibly the Bahai, Jain and Zoroastrian faiths!

Section 2.4 on the "Early Years Foundation Stage" emphasises "Personal, Emotional and Social Development" and "Knowledge and Understanding of the World". Humanists can have no complaint with this, but should it be called "Religious Education"? Most of what I saw of the SACRE's Multifaith project (which paid for a group of children to experience the religious rites of several different ethnic groups) was what I would call "Intercultural Education".

Is the use of religious "stories", such as the last days of Jesus or the fall of Adam and Eve, for the purpose of inculcating emotional understanding really justified, when other more effective stories from literature or history could be used for the same purpose? Or is the purpose really to familiarise (i.e. indoctrinate) young minds with these religious fables?

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