Dorset Humanists at Bishop Wordsworth’s School

Bishop Wordsworth's School, SalisburyOn 13th June, Dorset Humanists’ Richard Scutt visited Bishop Wordsworth’s Church of England School in Salisbury to explain Humanist beliefs and values at the school’s ‘Multi-faith Day’.
Richard led four one hour sessions on Humanism, presenting to around fifty 14-15 year old boys in total. Each session began with Richard outlining various definitions of Humanism and detailing our core beliefs and ethics. He went on to discuss how we ‘live these beliefs’ using reason, empathy, compassion and the Golden Rule. There was so much response and discussion after presenting the basics that Richard almost abandoned the rest of his presentation in order to debate real issues with the boys and their teachers. A wide range of subjects were discussed, including the role of Bishops in the House of Lords, discrimination and prejudice, Halal meat, and, of course, faith schools! Richard explained why Humanists favour inclusive education, but several boys felt parents should have the option of choosing faith schools if they wished. It was encouraging to hear the boys expressing progressive attitudes on many issues, including declaring themselves against gender and sexual orientation based discrimination. We were also interested to discover, by a show of hands, that 50% or more of the boys were not religious, which suggests a fair and transparent entrance selection process at this school. 

Summarising the experience, Richard said, ‘I had an excellent time discussing Humanism at the school, and was very impressed by the boys’ level of engagement, and their thoughtful questions and responses’. 

Multi-faith day is an annual event at Bishop Wordsworth’s, and this is the fourth time that Dorset Humanists have taken part, alongside speakers representing Baha’i, Buddhist, Moslem, Hindu, and various Christian groups. In an article for the school’s 2012 ‘Wordsworth’ magazine, Ambrose Connolly writes: ‘……..Interestingly for a multi-faith day, there were also people there who had no belief in God. This was particularly interesting as it offered a different perspective and contrast to all the other speakers…from Theist traditions’.

David Warden, Chair of Dorset Humanists, said, ‘I’m delighted that more and more schools are incorporating an understanding of Humanism into Religious Education lessons, and that Dorset Humanists are able to actively support the process’.

Bishop Wordsworth’s is a Church of England secondary school for boys providing grammar school education. The school is situated within the grounds of Salisbury Cathedral, and many classrooms offer a stimulating view of the famous Cathedral’s spire. Perhaps the most famous ‘Old Wordsworthian’ was author, Sir William Golding, who taught at the school for many years.

Dorset Humanists were instrumental in the consultation process that led to the inclusion of secular, non-religious philosophies such as Humanism into local RE syllabuses across Bournemouth, Poole and Dorset so that children learn to think more broadly about religion and philosophy. Dorset Humanists also has representatives on local Standing Advisory Councils for Religious Education (SACRE).

Religious Education is a statutory part of the basic curriculum for all pupils, but it is not a National Curriculum subject. Instead it is a local responsibility of the Children's Services Authority (CSA) through its SACRE, who form an Agreed Syllabus sub-group which produces the local agreed syllabus, monitors its effectiveness and appropriateness, and formally reviews it every five years.

Humanism in Schools: Dorset Humanists recommend the website ‘Humanism for Schools’ which contains a wealth of excellent resources for teachers and students. To arrange a school visit, please contact Dorset Humanists’ Education Officer, Chris Street.

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