by Kathy Riddick
This month has seen the long-awaited introduction of the new Curriculum for Wales and with it a change to Religion, Values and Ethics. Work on the new curriculum started in 2015, with the publication of ‘Successful Futures’ – an independent review of curriculum and assessment arrangements in Wales by Professor Graham Donaldson.1 The report promoted the intention of ‘securing the sustained and active participation of educational practitioners and the wider community’ in the curriculum and signalled ‘the vital importance of schools to the future success and well-being of every child and young person in Wales’.
This report formed the basis of a development programme which recognises that ‘Wales, like any other society, is not a uniform entity, but encompasses a range of values, perspectives, cultures and histories’. The curriculum supports locally driven content, but provides a foundation for national and international citizenship. It focuses on the importance of knowledge, skills and experiences and places teachers at the centre of curriculum development.
The curriculum is being rolled out over the next four years and will change education for 3 to 16-year-olds. As responsibility for education is devolved in Wales, the new approach to the subject has some significant differences, underpinned by the Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Act 2021.
The new curriculum has been developed by teachers over the last six years to uniquely reflect the landscape of education in Wales. Each of the areas of learning are based on knowledge, skills and experiences, and the main focus is on teachers creating their own content so it can be relevant to their local environment. This highlights the role of the Standing Advisory Councils for RVE (SACs) and agreed syllabus conferences (ASCs), who are still responsible for creation of a locally agreed syllabus. The difference now is that this syllabus must ‘have regard’ to the national RVE guidance.2 Agreed syllabus development has focused on the local elements specific to RVE, making sure that religious and non-religious beliefs present in the local area are clearly represented. The Church in Wales has also created guidance for designing a curriculum which provides clear and strong links to the national guidance.
The syllabus for RVE (and SAC/ASC membership) retains the requirement to ‘reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Wales are in the main Christian while taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in Wales’. But the legislation now adds the explicit requirement to ‘reflect the fact that a range of non-religious philosophical convictions are held in Wales’. This was already a requirement (in England as well as in Wales) due to the European Convention on Human Rights, but it is now written directly into education law, which removes any confusion around this point.
All recent Census and polling data shows growth in the non-religious, so it is right this is now reflected in the curriculum legislation. Non-religious beliefs such as humanism bring the ability to reflect a broad range of the local community, but also reflect the diversity of beliefs across the globe. One of the four main purposes of the new curriculum is to ‘create ethical citizens of Wales and the World’. Being able to present a range of religious and non-religious beliefs will enable children to develop a deep understanding and acceptance of their own and other’s communities.
The term ‘non-religious philosophical conviction’ does not include all philosophical convictions that are not religious. It is also not appropriate to group all non-religious worldviews together and present them en masse – this does a great disservice to over half of the population. A non-religious philosophical conviction is a belief or worldview that is specifically non-religious rather than simply one that is not religious. It is a conviction based on a non-religious belief, perspective, or worldview, as opposed to a religious worldview.
Humanism is the clearest and most widely represented example of a non-religious philosophical conviction. It is a non-religious worldview that can be considered analogous to a religious worldview in the role that it plays in people’s lives. It carries the required ‘level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance’ and as such can be studied alongside religious beliefs.
Given the need to cover such a broad range of beliefs, teachers will need support from their SACs to develop content, and make sure they are fulfilling the requirements of the curriculum. Delivering RVE in a critical, objective and pluralistic manner is not a new requirement, but will come under more focus in Wales as the new legislation removes the parental right to withdraw.
There is a risk that the content delivered in all settings is not broad enough. There is also concern about the significant variance that could appear throughout Wales with no prescriptive content. Inclusion of religion and belief locally is important, but there is also a need for consistent focus on how worldviews are incorporated throughout the curriculum. This is where WASACRE can help to coordinate a cohesive approach. The relationship between WASACRE, SACs, Welsh Government and Qualifications Wales is crucial to make sure there is consistency, and children have the best opportunity to succeed throughout their education, and in the new GCSEs when they are published.
The curriculum will herald a distinct divergence from how RE is taught in England, and this will present opportunities for discussion at the RE Council on how we can help to support both approaches, and what we can learn from the new developments.
Welsh Government has created a framework of progression steps and is about to publish a specific RVE training material which has been developed in partnership with WASACRE. With this and the support of SACs, there is the opportunity to deliver an incredibly rich and diverse curriculum, which inspires children to engage with RVE from nursery onwards. Mandatory RVE from 3 to 16 shows the commitment in Wales to developing a strong culture of worldview literacy. There is a long path to completely embedding the new curriculum, but it is an exciting time to be in Wales, helping transform education and strengthen this valuable subject.
by Kathy Riddick
REC Board Member
Executive Member of WASACRE
Wales Humanists Coordinator