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Agenda Item No. 7

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Learning and Culture Scrutiny Committee: 13 February 2016

 

Report of the Interim Director of Learning and Skills

 

Humanist Representative on the Vale of Glamorgan Council's Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE)

 

Purpose of the Report

  1. To provide Members with an opportunity to consider the recommendation by the Vale of Glamorgan Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE) to decline the application for humanist representation on SACRE.

Recommendation

  1. For Members to consider the recommendation made by the Vale of Glamorgan SACRE and refer any comments to Cabinet.

Reason for the Recommendation

  1. The Vale of Glamorgan Council has a duty to constitute a SACRE in accordance with section 390 of the Education Act 1996 (Appendix A). This provision holds that a SACRE should be constituted to reflect Christian denominations and other religious denominations as a broad reflection of the principal religious traditions in the area (Vale of Glamorgan SACRE Constitution - Appendix B).

Background

  1. The role of the Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE) is to advise the Local Authority (LA) on matters connected with religious education and collective worship, as the LA may refer, or as the SACRE sees fit.
  2. All LAs are required to constitute a Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE) within their local area.
  3. The main function of a SACRE is to:
  • advise the LA on collective worship in county schools and the religious education to be given in accordance with the agreed syllabus including methods of teaching, advice on materials and the provision of training for teachers;
  • consider whether to recommend to the LA that its current agreed syllabus should be reviewed by convening an Agreed Syllabus Conference;
  • consider whether the requirement that religious worship in a county school should be 'broadly Christian in nature' should be varied (determinations); and
  • report to the LA and the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) on its activities on an annual basis.
  1. The Vale of Glamorgan Cabinet, at its meeting of 19th October 2015, determined that its SACRE should comprise of six Elected Members representing the LA, twelve representatives of Christian and other religious groups and eight representatives of teachers' associations. Four co-opted places are available to be decided upon at the Committee's discretion.
  2. The Vale of Glamorgan SACRE comprises three groups representing:
  • Such Christian and other religious denominations as, in the opinion of the LA will appropriately reflect the religious traditions in the area;
  • Such associations representing teachers as, in the opinion of the LA, ought to be represented having regard to the circumstances of the area; and
  • The LA.
  1. The Vale of Glamorgan SACRE may also include co-opted members. Such co-opted members do not have voting rights.

Representatives from religious traditions and denominations

  1. To optimise the efficiency of the SACRE, membership is sought from a wider range of religious traditions than that which may at any time, be directly present within the Vale of Glamorgan.
  2. 12 places from a range of religions and denominations exist on the Vale of Glamorgan SACRE which could include but is not restricted to:
  • The Church in Wales                                                               
  • The Roman Catholic Church                                               
  • Free Churches                                                                
  • Bahâ'í Faith                                                                                               
  • Buddhism                                                                                               
  • Hinduism                                                                                               
  • Islam                                                                                                               
  • Judaism                                                                                               
  • Sikhism.
  1. Teacher representatives - 8 places from a range of teacher associations.
  2. The LA - 6 Elected Members representing the LA.
  3. Co-opted members (with no voting rights) - up to 4 members who have an interest in religious education and collective worship and can assist the Committee in its functions.
  4. SACREs are required by section 390 of the Education Act to ensure that members appointed to represent each denomination or religion must reflect broadly the proportionate strength of that denomination or religion in the area.

Relevant Issues and Options

  1. An application was received for Humanist representation on the Vale of Glamorgan SACRE from the Wales Humanist Development Officer.
  2. Following the application, the Vale of Glamorgan SACRE met to consider the request for a Humanist co-opted place on the Advisory Council.
  3. Following discussion it was agreed that the application should be refused on the basis that the SACRE does not consider Humanism to be a religion or a denomination of a religion for the purposes of section 390 of the Education Act 1996.
  4. In principle, the British Humanism Association defines Humanism/a Humanist as:
  • trusts to the scientific method when it comes to understanding how the universe works and rejects the idea of the supernatural (and is therefore an atheist or agnostic)
  • makes their ethical decisions based on reason, empathy, and a concern for human beings and other sentient animals
  • believes that, in the absence of an afterlife and any discernible purpose to the universe, human beings can act to give their own lives meaning by seeking happiness in this life and helping others to do the same.
  1. The remit of a SACRE is to deal with religious education and collective worship and the Vale of Glamorgan SACRE felt therefore that there was no obligation to have Humanist representation.
  2. The Vale of Glamorgan SACRE considers Humanism a non-religion, and available evidence suggests a Humanist representative would not serve to proportionately reflect recognised religious traditions within the Vale.
  3. A copy of the relevant Vale of Glamorgan SACRE meeting minutes are attached at Appendix C.
  4. In accordance with section 390 of the Education Act 1996, the Council should consider whether humanism falls within the definition of a religion or denomination of a religion and if so, whether a Humanist representative is needed in order to proportionately reflect the principal religious traditions of the Vale of Glamorgan.

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

  1. There are no resource implications arising from this report.

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

  1. There are no sustainability and climate change implications arising from this report.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

  1. Powers for Councils to constitute the Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education are governed by section 390 of the Education Act 1996. The SACRE shall consist of such groups appointed by the Authority as representative members and may also include co-opted members.
  2. The number of representative members appointed as part of the SACRE to represent each denomination or religion must reflect broadly the proportionate strength of that denomination or religion in the area. The Authority needs to decide whether Humanism falls within the definition of a denomination or religion.
  3. Authorities may also include co-opted members as part of the SACRE. Such co-opted members do not have voting rights.

Crime and Disorder Implications

  1. There are no crime and disorder implications arising from this report.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

  1. The primary function of the SACRE is to ensure religious beliefs and denominations are represented on matters connected with religious education and collective worship, and to ensure a proportionate reflection of the religious traditions within the community.
  2. Advice was sought from the Equality and Human Rights Commission relating to equal opportunities and the interpretation of section 390 of the Education Act 1996 regarding membership to the SACRE. The advice and correspondence can be found at Appendix D.
  3. The Council has to satisfy its public sector duties under the Equalities Act 2010, including specific Welsh public sector duties. Pursuant to these legal duties Councils must in making decisions have due regard to the need to (1) eliminate unlawful discrimination, (2) advance equality of opportunity and (3) foster good relations on the basis of protected characteristics.
  4. Protected characteristics include:
  • Age
  • Gender reassignment
  • Sex
  • Race - including ethic or national origin, colour or nationality
  • Disability
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religion or belief - including lack of belief
  • Pregnancy and maternity.
  1. The Equality and Human Rights Commission's' definition for Religion and belief as a protected characteristic is 'Religion has the meaning usually given to it but belief includes religious and philosophical beliefs including lack of belief (such as Atheism). Generally, a belief should affect your life choices or the way you live for it to be included in the definition.'
  2. An equality impact assessment may have four possible outcomes, though more than one may apply to a single policy. These include:
  • No major change - the impact assessment demonstrated that the policy was robust; there was no potential for discrimination or adverse impact. All opportunities to promote equality have been taken.
  • Adjust the policy - the impact assessment identified potential problems or missed opportunities. The policy was adjusted to remove barriers or better promote equality.
  • Continue the policy - the impact assessment identified the potential for adverse impact or missed opportunities to promote equality. The justification(s) for continuing with it have been clearly set out. (The justification must be included in the impact assessment and must be in line with the duty to have due regard. Compelling reasons will be needed for the most important relevant policies.)
  • Stop and remove the policy - the impact assessment identified actual or potential unlawful discrimination. The policy was stopped and removed, or changed.
  1. A full Equality Impact Assessment was conducted on the impact of the recommendation by the Vale of Glamorgan SACRE to decline the application for humanist representation on SACRE. A copy is attached at Appendix E.
  2. The outcome of the Equality Impact Assessment was to adjust the policy, with the following considerations:
  • A recommendation for the Vale of Glamorgan SACRE to consider a voluntary extension of membership to include a co-opted member of the Humanist belief. Additionally it should be made clear that any decision does not preclude any applications from other relevant belief/non-belief groups in the future and any further decisions will be made taking into account the specific context of that application.
  • A recommendation that the Vale of Glamorgan Equalities Department review whether there are any measures available to identify the current number of Humanists in the Vale of Glamorgan.
  1. Public bodies are required to have due regard to the need to:
  • eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation and other conduct that is prohibited by the Act;
  • advance equality of opportunity between people who share a relevant protected characteristic and those who do not;
  • foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not.

Corporate/Service Objectives

  1. This report supports the Council's Wellbeing Outcome 3: An Aspirational and Culturally Vibrant Vale, Corporate Objective 6 'Valuing culture and diversity'

Policy Framework and Budget

  1. This is a matter for Executive decision.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

  1. Not applicable.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

  1. Learning and Culture.

Background Papers

None

Contact Officer

Jeremy Morgan - Senior Governor Support Officer

Officers Consulted

Trevor Baker - Operational Manager, Strategy & Resources.

Gill Vaisey - SACRE Consultant to the Vale of Glamorgan

Victoria Davidson - Operational Manager - Legal Services

Nicola Hinton - Corporate Equalities Officer

Responsible Officer:

Paula Ham, Interim Director of Learning and Skills

 

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