New guidance on Religious Studies GCSE

January 6th, 2016 by Paul Greatorex

Last November I did a blog post about the case of R (Fox) v Secretary of State for Education [2015] EWHC 3404 (Admin) in which the High Court found that government guidance about religious education was in one respect unlawful.

The DfE has now issued a “guidance note” to take account of that decision.  It is very short, just 2 pages long.  The first page describes the court’s decision as having been on a “narrow, technical point” and reiterates government’s policy on the teaching of RE which it says remains unchanged.  The second page then sets out its response to the High Court’s decision as follows (footnotes removed):

“The judgement identifies a technical, legal concern with paragraph 2 of the introduction to the Religious Studies (RS) GCSE subject content:
“By setting out the range of subject content and areas of study for GCSE specifications in religious studies, the subject content is consistent with the requirements for the statutory provision of religious education in current legislation as it applies to different types of school.”
The Court concluded that this amounted to an assurance to all schools without a religious character that they could always wholly rely on any and all possible routes through the RS GCSE to ensure compliance with their statutory responsibilities.
This was not how the paragraph was ever intended to be read. We intended it simply to reflect that the subject content is not incompatible with those statutory responsibilities and may act as a possible element in complying with those responsibilities.
Paragraph 2 is now to be understood and applied in the sense set out in the previous two paragraphs.
The Government’s clear view is that schools following this approach will be fully in line with their statutory requirements.”

According to a statement issued by the British Humanist Association, which had supported the judicial review claim, this new guidance “makes the situation worse” and it is consulting its lawyers so this may not be the end of the matter.  But whatever its rights or wrongs, one can’t help thinking how nice it would be if all government guidance were as short as this.  Happy New Year!

Paul Greatorex


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