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Christian Institute claims atheist groups could negatively influence religious education in Wales

by Premier Journalist

Atheism could be taught in what will be called 'Religious Values and Ethics' in Welsh schools, with a Christian campaign group claiming non-religious groups will have too much influence on the teaching of the subject.  

The national curriculum is being revamped in Wales, with the Government proposing an end to the right to withdraw children from certain lessons such as Religious Values and Ethics (RVE) and Relationship and Sex Education (RSE).

It's part of wider changes to education being debated in the Curriculum and Assessment Bill. 

The Christian Institute has claimed the proposed change to religious education is an "atheist power grab", because Humanists UK and the National Secular Society would be welcomed onto committees which decide what is taught. These currently operate locally and are only occupied by teachers, local authorities and local religious groups, such as churches. 

John Denning, the Christian Institute's education officer, told Premier these organisations "have their own very, very particular view - quite a narrow view really - of religion and we don't think it's proportionate for them to have such a big say."

When asked why Atheist views do not count as simply another worldview to be taught, Mr Denning replied: "We're not saying that non-religious views should be shut out and never discussed. In the teaching of religious education, you're going to touch on all sorts of issues where, if you're having a proper open discussion of different views, non-religious views will be aired and come into that discussion. 

"But the views of Humanists UK are not the views of most non-religious people. In their 2011 census in Wales, only 815 people in the whole of Wales said they were Humanists, about 1,500 said they were Atheists. That reflects the reality; although there are a lot of people in our society who say they're not religious, when people have done research and asked those people 'what do they really believe?' only about 2 per cent will actually say 'I'm an atheist', or 'I'm a secularist'. So, to give that very small group that bigger say...seems completely out of proportion."

In the 2011 census, 58 per cent of people in Wales said they were Christian and 32 per cent said they had no religion. The Government says in an impact assessment paper: "Our expectation, based on the current case law, is that the teaching of agreed syllabus RE, must be pluralistic in nature. This means it must be balanced in its content and manner of teaching. It should reflect the range of different religions, non-religious philosophical convictions or worldviews which are held by people in Wales and Great Britain"

The Welsh Government adds that there will be flexibility for schools with a religious nature, particularly independent ones, and that attention should be paid to the traditions of a local area. The changes are due to take effect in 2022 and are currently going through the parliamentary process, having been debated in the Welsh Senedd in December. 

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