A Day in the (Humanist) Life of the BHA Faith Schools Campaigner
Richy Thompson describes a typical day in the office
Richy is the British Humanist Association’s Campaigns Officer (Faith Schools and Education) and the UK’s only dedicated campaigner against ‘faith’ schools. The BHA is currently fundraising to support the post for 2012. Please donate today at http://www.justgiving.com/nofaithschools
It’s been a while since I’ve written an article for HumanistLife. The previous two were both written when I was President of the AHS, before I started working as the BHA’s ‘faith’ schools campaigner. I’ve been in this job for slightly over four months now, and I thought it’d be interesting to talk about some of the things I get up to by exploring a typical day – yesterday.
I started the day doing our internal media review, replying to some queries from parents about collective worship, worked in support of local campaigns against ‘faith’ schools, and navigating creationist attack mail. The first big thing I looked at was an email I had received from a member of Milton Keynes Humanists, who I had arranged last week to attend a public meeting being held by anti-choice group, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), in association with a number of local Muslim groups. SPUC’s “Safe at School” campaign works against good Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) in state-funded schools, particularly focussing on the primary level. Our local member took extensive notes, which should prove very helpful in understanding their tactics. We had another member at their Wakefield meeting last night, who I’m looking forward to hearing more from shortly.
After that, I spent a while investigating a tip-off I had received about a bid from some creationists for a Free School. The bid, on the surface, appears to be from an evangelical Christian group that has nothing to do with creationism, but someone who had met them found that the leadership privately holds creationist beliefs, and intends to ‘teach creation and evolution, but not creationism’ – whatever that means. A number of evangelical groups have bid for Free Schools – more evangelical than any group already providing state-funded education – and serious questions need to be asked about what these groups actually believe, and what they intend to teach, about all sorts of things, not just creationism. I imagine many will have seen the negative publicity that Everyday Champions Church’s bid has attracted, and decided to mask their true colours, perhaps even from the Department for Education. With regards to this particular bid, we’re considering appropriate further steps.
The Education Bill finished its Committee Stage in the House of Lords yesterday, and we’re busy preparing for the Report Stage. Our aim for the law to be changed to put an end to discrimination against teachers and pupils and, really importantly, to stop the huge proliferation of new ‘faith’ schools of all different denominations that we are seeing. We worked with peers in the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group to get a wide range of amendments tabled during Committee Stage, and during Report Stage we’ll be looking to take a number of these forward for further debate, though perhaps tightening the focus on some in response to what was said during Committee Stage. So yesterday I prepared an internal document where for each of the amendments debated, I looked at what we wanted, what was said, what the Government’s response was, and what I would recommend for further action at the next stage.
Finally, I’ve been doing a lot of work lately around Standing Advisory Councils for Religious Education (SACREs). About half of the 151 SACREs in England and the 22 in Wales have a humanist as a member, but ideally we’d like to see that expanded to all of them. Yesterday we gained three new humanist reps. One of them, Zelda Bailey, I arranged to observe a meeting of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets’ SACRE last week, and she attended that first meeting this week. At the meeting they happened to be putting the finishing touches on the RE Syllabus for the borough, and she found that it didn’t mention the non-religious in any way. Thanks to her last minute interventions, she was able to add “secular worldviews” to the religions and beliefs to be studied each year in Tower Hamlets’ community, voluntary controlled and foundation schools, and most of the Academies – therefore meaning that thousands of children should now learn about non-religious beliefs such as atheism, agnosticism and humanism, when they otherwise wouldn’t have done. New RE syllabuses are only agreed once every five years, so Zelda’s appearance at the meeting was particularly well-timed! And the meeting finished with her being unanimously voted onto the SACRE as a co-opted member.
I finished the day looking at the Humanist SACRE Reps handbook, and how we can improve it to help further instruct all reps in how they can best carry out their role on their SACREs, and doing some preparation for a talk I’m giving to King’s College London Atheist, Humanist and Secular Society I’m giving next week.
All in all, I think this is a really great, tremendously interesting job, but also a hugely important and highly unique one – there’s no-one else in the country (perhaps the world?) working full time to abolish ‘faith’ schools, and yet many non-religious people in the UK would agree that education is the single biggest area in which we are disadvantaged due to our lack of belief.
I would very much like to continue this job, and I think it’s really vital that the British Humanist Association continues to employ a ‘faith’ schools campaigner. So please donate to our JustGiving appeal at http://www.justgiving.com/nofaithschools so that this work can continue.