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Including non-religious students in RE/RME

In the 2011 Census over 30% of young people in England and Wales and almost 40% in Scotland reported they have no religion. The number of young people that come from non-religious households is rising, and it is increasingly important for Religious Education (as it is known in England and Wales) and Religious and Moral Education (as it is known in Scotland) to be inclusive, and give all young people the opportunity to engage with provoking and challenging questions about meaning and purpose in life, beliefs about God(s), ultimate reality, issues of right and wrong and what it means to be human. This is reflected in the 2013 publication from The Religious Education Council of England and Wales A Review of Religious Education in England.

Tips for teachers:

  • Alom Vol3Use inclusive language (for example, ‘belief’, ‘life stance’, ‘worldview’, ‘philosophy’ or ‘ethical tradition’ instead of ‘religion’ or ‘faith’, ‘non-religious’ rather than ‘no faith/belief’) wherever possible.
  • When setting tasks, make sure someone who is non-religious can participate without barriers. For example, anyone could write a ‘reflection’ rather than a prayer, and questions such as the one requiring students to give advice to ‘a close friend of your own religion’ can be made more inclusive by including ‘or belief’.
  • Don’t assume children and young people come from a religious background, believe in an afterlife or a god (or gods), or know anything about any particular religions;
  • Any statement about any religion or god should be prefaced by: ‘Some people believe…’ rather than ‘We believe…’.
  • Try to include non-religious perspectives when discussing ethical and religious issues.
  • In lessons about rites of passage or fundamental questions of life, such as death, the purpose of life, include the viewpoints and experience of agnostics, atheists, and humanists. Include Humanist Ceremonies and other ways non-religious people may mark important milestones, life events, and the passing of time.
  • Children should be taught religious stories (e.g. creation myths, miracles) in such a way that their understanding of science is not compromised. Children will be aware of evolution from visits to museums, books, and television programmes – RE should not contradict this. (For example, a nature display should not be called the ‘creation’ display).
  • Make it clear that ‘moral’ and ‘religious’ are not the same thing.
  • Don’t try to convert non-religious pupils.

See also:

Teaching Toolkits for delivering lessons on Humanism in RE
Case Studies and Resources to give you ideas and help to develop your own
Humanist Perspectives on a range of ethical and moral issues
Guidance for school leaders, teachers, SACREs, Governors and others

Humanism for Schools

Humanism is a non-religious approach to life, which the 2013 national framework for RE in England recommends be studied in schools as an example of a 'non-religious worldview'.

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