Michael Rosen: Dear Ms Morgan – religious education must include atheism and humanism

Writing his open letter to Nicky Morgan in the Guardian, Michael Rosen says schools cannot prepare pupils for modern life by excluding secular beliefs from GCSE religious studies.

…when the course of study was published in February 2015, humanism was not given parity of esteem and was demoted to a couple of clauses. In response, a letter of protest [pdf] signed by a number of people across public life was sent to the schools minister, Nick Gibb.

You and your department refused to budge. There it would have rested if it hadn’t been for some parents challenging the matter in the high court, resulting in a judgment last week that stated that you (not personally, but in your capacity as the secretary of state for education) had erred in asserting that this GCSE would “fulfil the entirety of the state’s RE duties”…

The response from a Department for Education spokesman is stunning in its refusal to respond to the criticism: “Our new RS GCSE ensures pupils understand the diversity of religious beliefs in Great Britain through the study of more than one religion – an important part of our drive to tackle segregation and ensure pupils are properly prepared for life in modern Britain.”

I put it to you: yes indeed, many people do live in “modern Britain” as believers, but many of us live as atheists or humanists. This is not the behaviour or belief of a tiny group of adherents. It may not be visible in the way that state occasions or BBC television and radio slots display the practices of believers, but that’s because for most of us our way of being atheists or humanists is simply to do life that way, whether we’re going shopping or thinking about our dead loved ones.

I’m not clear how you can fully tackle segregation or prepare for “life in modern Britain” while pretending that atheists don’t exist. It looks to me as if your spokesman has erected another form of segregation: the one that excludes atheist and humanist history and practice from this GCSE…

More at: Dear Ms Morgan: religious education must include atheism and humanism


In his full letter, Michael Rosen considers the history of atheism and humanism in England and beyond, and suggests it – and the role it has had in the lives of many key figures – has made a significant contribution to the world we live in.

So is he right to suggest that excluding it from the GCSE is another form of segregation that makes it harder for young people to prepare for life in this country? 

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