Defeat for Morgan in High Court over GCSE religious studies
The High Court has ruled that Education Secretary Nicky Morgan made an ‘error of law’ when she omitted ‘non-religious world views’ from the new religious studies GCSE. Three families, supported by the British Humanist Association, had sought a judicial review claiming Morgan had taken a ‘skewed’ approach which was not reflecting the pluralistic nature of the United Kingdom. Mr Justice Warby ruled there had been ‘a breach of the duty to take care that information or knowledge included in the curriculum is conveyed in a pluralistic manner’. David Wolfe QC, for the three families, said there had been widespread concern ‘about the Secretary of State’s failure to comply with her duty of neutrality and impartiality as between religious and other beliefs.’ Lawyers acting for the SoS said there was no legal obligation under domestic law or the European Convention on Human Rights to give equal consideration to religious and non-religious views in the curriculum. They also said GCSE RS wasn’t the only way for schools to fulfil their duty to provide religious education although some did. There was provision for non-religious beliefs to be studied outside exam programmes and this was a matter ‘for local determination’. The Judge said it was not unlawful to have a GCSE RS which omits non-religious world views. However, in February 2015 when the new subject content was issued, an assertion had been made that such a GCSE ‘will fulfil the entirety of the state’s RE duties’. The Judge said this assertion would likely be accepted by schools and encourage them to ‘act unlawfully’. He concluded: ‘The assertion thus represents a breach of the duty to take care that information or knowledge included in the curriculum is conveyed in a pluralistic manner’. The Judge made it clear that his ruling related only to schools or academies which had no religious character. Schools with a religious character were covered by different rules laid down in the 1998 Schools Standards and Framework Act. The Department for Education responding by saying the new RS GCSE ‘ensures pupils understand the diversity of religious beliefs in Great Britain through the study of more than one religion’. It claimed it was ‘designed to ensure pupils develop knowledge and understanding of both religious and non-religious beliefs’. It’s unclear how the RS GCSE develops knowledge and understanding of non-religious beliefs when the syllabus does not cover them. The DfE spokesman said the judgement didn’t ‘challenge the content or structure of that new GCSE’ and that the judge had ruled the GCSE wasn’t unlawful. However, he seemed to have missed the conclusion that schools could be acting unlawfully if they relied on RS GCSE to meet religious education requirements. The RS GCSE alone would not do so. ‘We will carefully consider the judgement before deciding on our next steps,’ the spokesperson added.