The headteacher of every Catholic school in Wales has written to the First Minister asking him to rethink his Government's proposed changes to Religious Education. The headteachers of more than 80 Welsh Catholic schools have signed a joint letter asking the Rt Hon Mark Drakeford MS, to stop the proposed legislation surrounding RE which specifically targets the Catholic ethos of their schools.
With the plans uniquely affecting their schools, the headteachers have taken the unprecedented step of collectively asking for reassurance that it is not the Government's specific intention to damage Catholic schools.
The Welsh Government plans to expand the scope of traditional RE to 'Religion Values and Ethics', removing the academic rigor of the subject and reducing it to an over-simplistic comparison exercise which fails to understand the fundamentals of faith and religion.
The new proposals, published in May, specifically penalise Catholic schools, placing additional and unreasonable legal requirements on them that no other schools have to satisfy, specifically forcing them to teach two separate RE curriculums without any consideration of resourcing impactions this would have for schools.
In their letter, the headteachers state that the proposed changes to RE fail to recognise the heritage and deep connection Religious Education has within church schools, including Catholic schools, which dedicate 10% of curriculum time to the subject.
They go on to say the Welsh Government's desire to create a so-called 'neutral values' curriculum risks moving towards a homogeneous education system which would no longer recognise children's legal right to pursue a deep knowledge and spiritual understanding of their own faith as well as those of others.
Prior to the proposed legislation, a majority of respondents to the Government's consultation said they were against the name change of RE and that they supported the continuation of parents' rights to withdraw their children from RE. On both of these, the Welsh Government have ignored popular opinion.
Paul Barber, Director of the Catholic Education Service, wich represents Catholic schools in Wales, commented: "I hope this letter from all of the headteachers makes the Welsh Government realise the overwhelming strength of feeling against these proposals to the Catholic community. They strike at the very identity of Catholic schools and at the heart of the principle that that parents, and not the State, are the primary and principal educators of their children."
The Catholic Church is Wales comprises of three dioceses; the Diocese of Wrexham, the Diocese of Menevia and the Archdiocese of Cardiff. Collectively they have an estimated Catholic population of over 200,000 people. There are 84 Catholic schools in Wales, all of which are Voluntary Aided Schools. Welsh Catholic schools educate almost 28,000 pupils and employ more than 1500 teachers. 54% of pupils in Welsh Catholic schools are of the Catholic faith.
On 5 May 2020, The Welsh Government opened its 'Curriculum for Wales: Religion, values and ethics' consultation. This consultation followed on from a previous consultation (entitled 'Ensuring Access to the Full Curriculum') which asked respondents to comment on a number of proposals, including a change of name for Religious Education and the intention to rescind the parental right of withdrawal from the subject in the new curriculum.
Many teachers and leaders in Catholic schools across Wales responded to the Ensuring Access to the Full Curriculum consultation to oppose the changes, viewing it as an assault on parental rights and on the academic rigour of Religious Education in Catholic schools.
According to the Welsh Government's analysis of the Ensuring Access to the Full Curriculum consultation, opposition to its proposals came from across the whole sector https://gov.wales/sites/default/files/consultations/2020-01/full-report-ensuring-access-to-the-full-curriculum.pdf
Despite fervent opposition the Welsh Government has moved to introduce these changes to rename Religious Education to Religion, Values and Ethics in the new curriculum.
Serious concerns were also raised by parents and teachers about the removal of the parental right of withdrawal for RE as it infringed on the core Catholic belief that parents are the primary educators and the legal right of children to receive an upbringing in their faith.
The Welsh Government intends to introduce a Curriculum and Assessment Bill in order to implement these changes
Concerns have also been raised over the lack of due process and transparency as the Government may publish the Bill before it considers responses to the RVE consultation.
At the time of writing, the CES understands that the Government is not minded to postpone the legislation, regardless of the unforeseen impact of the Covid-19 crisis on schools.
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