Spotlight on SACRE

HELEN SELLERS turns the spotlight on SACREs
- Standing Advisory Councils for Religious Education

Helen SellersIT has been my privilege to serve as Baptist representative on Bradford SACRE for the past six years and I will be stepping down after the December meeting due to our relocation to North Yorkshire.

When the seat became vacant I was eager to get involved as I had been an RE teacher for the past 17 years and was looking for a way to stay involved in RE matters and get to know a new community, as we had recently moved into the Bradford area when my husband took up the pastorate at Clayton Baptist Church; I have certainly done both!

Most representatives of faith groups are not clergy; they may be parents, teachers (not necessarily of RE), community-minded retirees, all with a passion to see children and young people well-informed and literate in religious matters. The mix of people in the Bradford SACRE is wide and varied, truly representing the diverse city and local authority area; this has been part of the strength of the SACRE over many years.

Each group represented nominates a person through the clerk when a vacancy arises. The YBA is the nominating body for Baptists on all Yorkshire SACREs.

The areas of responsibility for a SACRE are certainly topical. No-one can fail to see the need for religious literacy in the UK in the present situation (as highlighted recently by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd and Rt Hon Justin Welby).
In Bradford, SACRE works closely with the department for Diversity and Cohesion within Bradford Council and we are also able to invite speakers from key areas to inform us of current thinking and practice.
In the past year we have had speakers on community safety, the Prevent strategy, hate crime, the changing educational landscape (including home schooling), along with the national commission on RE.

We also regularly correspond with government departments and the APPG (All-Part Parliamentary Group) on Education where RE is under consideration. Because SACREs are responsible for the Agreed Syllabus, the current debate on the possibility of a National Curriculum for RE is of great interest and we are kept up-to-date by our Chair and Clerk, who regularly attend national meetings. We have also considered the Casey Review on community cohesion and sent in examples of community interaction around Bradford, including some from Little Lane LEP and Clayton Baptist Church, with our response.

Since 1988 the law requires every Local Authority to have a SACRE and they have a key role in supporting and promoting Religious Education and Collective Worship in all schools in their Local Authority, ensuring that schools fulfil their statutory requirement to provide RE, according to the locally agreed syllabus, and daily collective worship.

The place of RE is unique in being a statutory entitlement for all pupils in maintained schools, including academies. Because it is not part of the National Curriculum the importance of the Locally Agreed Syllabus is huge and SACRE prepares this syllabus which is followed by all maintained schools and recommended to academies. The strength of a locally-agreed syllabus is just that, it is agreed locally that these areas are important for our children and young people to know and understand, so it will reflect the religious make-up of the local authority.

The SACRE is comprised of four committees representing different community voices. Committee A, usually the largest, is made up of representatives of Christian denominations (other than Church of England) and faith/ belief groups represented in the community.
Committee B is Church of England, C is Education, and D Council representatives. Bradford SACRE meets five times throughout the academic year, some others meet once a term.

The Bradford Agreed Syllabus has been re-written for 2016-2021 and it was a privilege to be part of the working group. One of our main concerns was that “deep questions” should be asked and pupils’ critical thinking skills stretched.

We introduced the syllabus by means of concepts rather than topics, showing how the ideas and values behind religious practice are key, how beliefs affect that practice, and going beyond a comprehension-type questioning of religious stories. So, for example, the concept of forgiveness will be considered in a number of religions, their teachings compared, and examples studied of how they affect believers today.

(The Bradford Agreed Syllabus may be viewed online  - click here along with links to national debates.)The syllabus is for all school ages, with differing levels of depth and breadth. It covers the six main world religions along with non-religious world-views such as humanism.

I would urge all of you reading this to consider your own experience of RE and then think about the world as it is now. Good RE now challenges religious assumptions and encourages thoughtful discussion of shared beliefs and values; it looks at differences within as well as between religious and non-religious world-views and helps children and young people feel able to articulate their own beliefs in a safe learning environment. This is the kind of RE I want to support and promote through SACRE.

The other important area for SACRE is the support of Collective Worship. Many schools struggle with this even though in Bradford we are able to draw on Faith Tutors working at the Interfaith Education Centre to help. I have worked as an Associate Tutor for Christianity for the last three years and have found out first-hand how many schools struggle to feel confident in this area.

SACRE has facilitated a Westhill Project this year to help schools develop their collective worship, again it has been a privilege to be part of that project. To see senior leaders in a school work together to investigate and then “get” spirituality and want to realise the spiritual potential of their pupils is exciting. This is an area where community involvement is often welcomed and churches can have a role to play in careful consultation with your local schools.

The future for SACREs may be somewhat uncertain, if a national curriculum for RE is brought in one of their main remits would cease; however, while they do exist they deserve our whole-hearted support. Your support may be to become a representative on your local SACRE, or to encourage a member of your congregation to do so; to highlight the existence and work of SACRE in a church meeting along with prayer for local schools; or to look up your local SACRE on your Local Authority website and see when they meet and pray for them. However you do it, let me encourage you to support your local SACRE!

Updated November 2017, Article by Helen Sellers


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