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GCSE High Court Ruling Works in Favour of Families

View profile for Andrew Barrowclough
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This week three families were delighted after a verdict from the High Court concluded that Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan had made an “error of law”.

The families who had been seeking a judicial review welcomed the ruling in relation to the Religious Studies GCSE, which they say does not treat non-religious worldwide views the same as religious views such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism.

Backed by the British Humanist Association (BHA), the families claimed that the Education Secretary failed to support non religious world views as a result of changes to the Religious Studies curriculum in February.

The changes stated that the new GCSE “will fulfil the entirety of the state’s RE duties”. Mr Justice Warby said that this could be interpreted in a way that non-religious views do not need to be included. However, he has made clear that the overall content and structure of the new RS GCSE was not unlawful.

The BHA have said that although the Government are not compelled to change the Religious Studies syllabus immediately, as a result of the hearing, non-religious views worldwide will soon be treated  as equal to orthodox religious beliefs.

Following the hearing, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson spoke about a “stunning victory” for not only the families who stood up against the Government, but also for other families who believe that the Religious Studies curriculum should be “inclusive, balanced and pluralistic”.

Katie Bielby, a member of one of the families concerned, spoke out about her delight at the decision and said that it clearly supported the equality of religion and belief. She also added that: “It is long past time that the beliefs of the non-religious were treated on an equal footing with religions in the school curriculum.”

The Equality Act protects those with traditional religious beliefs, along with those who do not hold such views. The Religious Studies curriculum, it could be argued, may be indirectly discriminatory against those who do not hold religious beliefs if it is not willing to recognise such opinions within the syllabus. The Act also specifies that schools have a legal duty not to discriminate against anyone in respect of their religious beliefs (or lack thereof) ‘in the way it provides education for the pupil’. The interpretation of this can be quite wide, therefore other families will undoubtedly be able to utilise the protection of the Act in similar circumstances, should they arise.

The Department of Education insist that the decision from the High Court will not affect the current teaching of the Religious Studies GCSE and that they will carefully consider their decisions moving forward as a result of the hearing.

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