Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education

Lewisham is one of the more forward thinking councils that welcome a representative from the local Humanist community to sit in on the periodic SACRE meetings. The following article aims to give an overview of what SACRE is all about; and explain why it’s important to have a secular prescence on the commitee.

What is a Sacre?
What does the Sacre do?
Religious Education in the curriculum
The Humanists UK position
SACRE links

What is a Sacre?

The Education Act 1996 states that every local authority (LA) must set up a Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE) with responsibility to advise it on matters concerned with the provision of religious education and collective worship.  This provision was continued in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.

It is understood that the broad role of a SACRE is to support effective provision for RE and collective worship in the Local Authority.

In order to bring a wide range of interests and talents to this work a SACRE is typically made up of a number of groups.

Group A
Non C of E Christian denominations and other major religions

Group B
The Church of England, to include a representative of the Director of Education of the Diocese, two RE teachers one with primary another with secondary school experience, and an ordained minister of the Church of England.

Group C
Teachers’ professional associations, including teachers’ unions and recognised consultative groups and support networks

Group D
The Local Authority with the majority party having two places and the minority party one.  There are also places for representatives of primary and secondary school governors and from the Executive Director for children and young people.

Although these are non-voting some councils pride themselves in allowing co-opted places typically:

– Baha’i
– Humanist
– Rastafarian , and
– A foundation school

What does the SACRE do?

SACREs meet about four times a year.  At meetings members would do some or all of the following:

Update their knowledge, consider and comment on national initiatives and issues related to RE, pupils’ personal development, community cohesion and collective worship;
Consider information or advice from the RE school improvement officer;
Review OFSTED reports on RE to gauge standards in individual schools and across the borough;
Decide how to congratulate schools with good reports and offer support to those that need it;
Work on the production of support material for schools;
Review and advise on training provided for teachers or for faith community representatives;
Discuss and decide on ways to support teachers, for example by setting up or arranging exhibitions;
Develop or maintain links with and between local and national faith communities;
Consult with the council on issues relating to faith and the faith communities;
Produce an annual report of their work.
SACRE also produces occasional advice where necessary, to support schools at times of local, national or international difficulty.

Religious Education in the curriculum

Religious education is seen as a vital subject for the promotion of core values; it enhances understanding and discourages prejudice.  RE helps pupils to make sense of the world in which they are going to take place as adults, by knowing and understanding what it is that people believe and how this affects the way they live alongside each other.

SACREs should produce an agreed syllabus for religious education that will enable young people to learn about and understand their own beliefs and those of others in a safe, non-threatening environment.

RE is part of the curriculum by law and the agreed syllabus is the method by which the law is implemented.  It deals with one of the most important parts of the curriculum, yet one of the hardest to define and plan.  It engages pupils of all ages with the fact that people in all societies have tried to recognise ultimate values, and to grapple with the meaning of life.

An agreed syllabus is for all pupils and this principle has been kept at the heart of the SACRE’s work, endeavouring to remember and address the needs of the pupils of all faith and cultural backgrounds, gender, disability or special need.  Each of them must see that those things that matter most, in terms of faith and culture, are valued and protected by the syllabus.

It is not the place of religious education to nurture pupils into a particular religious standpoint, or into a system of belief that they be required to accept.  The task of nurturing in a particular faith is that of the home and/or faith community who wish to do so.  Schools are, however, required to promote the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils so that they are able to develop their own views as believers or non-believers as they move into adult life.

The Future

In October 2008 the Government announced its intention to make Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education statutory and launched a review to investigate how this might be achieved.

The Humanists UK Position

Humanists UK is committed to encouraging informed and responsible choices and believes all children are entitled to high quality and comprehensive PSHE, including SRE.  There is a large and growing body of opinion amongst health care and educational professionals which sees compulsory SRE in all schools as vital in tackling issues such as the increase in sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies.  We believe it is crucial that PSHE, including SRE, become a statutory part of the National Curriculum and be treated like any other National Curriculum subject – with no parental right of withdrawal.  Children and young people’s right to education about themselves and others in the context of PSHE should be paramount.

The current non-statutory programmes for PSHE in secondary schools offer teachers enough flexibility in teaching PSHE to allow them to tailor it to the genuine needs of pupils and parents and so we also believe that, once PSHE is included in the National Curriculum, the special arrangements for governors in determining their school’s PSHE should naturally come to an end.  Under the current regime, where PSHE is not compulsory, governors have a role in determining the SRE policy of their school – this would not be necessary once there is a national curriculum for PSHE.

Overall, we believe the proposed PSHE programmes of study are excellent. However, some of the terminology of the proposed guidance will need revising.  For example, the KS3 and KS4 guidance discuss PSHE appreciating ‘the religious diversity’ in communities (naturally the BHA believes both religious and non-religious diversity should be recognised).

SACRE links
Lewisham Council – Religious Education
Greenwich Council – SACRE committee information
Bexley Council – SACRE committee information
Bromley Council – SACRE committee information
National Association of SACREs
Humanists UK – about SACREs
Humanism for schools