Saturday, 27 February 2010

Report on East Sussex SACRE

On Thursday I went to the East Sussex SACRE meeting at the Civic Centre in Uckfield. I was there, self-invited, as a Humanist Observer. What I observed was complete apathy. There were only two actual members of the SACRE there! These were Councillor Matthew Lock representing the Local Authority, and Dr Brenda Vance of the United Reformed Church. These were outnumbered by the three administrators, Susan Thompson (Religious Education Consultant), Connie Hughes (Primary Team Leader, School Improvement Service) and Rebecca Haynes (Clerk to the SACRE).

The other person present was Bill Moore who is Chair of the Executive of the National Association of SACREs (which has the unfortunate acronym NASACRE). He gave a presentation on what SACREs are, what they do, amd the laws governing them. According to one of the quotes in his presentation: RE has to "reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian, while taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in GB". I queried whether this should read "religions and beliefs", as the wording is in other documents from the Government, but was told those were only "guidance" and did not have legal force. I also asked if there was any chance of Religious Education being retitled to something like Philosophical and Ethical Education, but Mr Moore was clearly against any such change.

One reason for the lack of attendance could be the choice of Uckfield as a venue. The only way I could find of getting there by public transport was by train to Eastbourne and then a one-hour bumpy journey on the number 54 bus, which runs every 2 and a half hours. It seemed unclear whether the meeting would go on until the scheduled 5 pm finish, since the meeting was unquorate, so that no definite decisions could be taken. So I decided to miss the second half of the meeting and catch the early bus back to Eastbourne. It poured of rain all the way (as it did at the last SACRE meeting I attended).

Later I looked up the NASACRE website. Its URL is "" but in fact this redirects to "", and the first part of this URL takes one to the "Me, Myself and I" Independent Educational Consultancy run by Paul Hopkins, which also maintains websites for many other groups with weird acronyms: AREIAC, AULRE, COGREE, ECCE, EFTRE, ICCS, SRSP and others, all relating to Religious Education. I could find no reference to humanism on these sites.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Sex Education in Faith-biased Schools

The British Humanist Association is urging its members to write to their MPs, using the BHA email system urging them to oppose an amendment to the Children, Schools and Families Bill, when it is debated next Tuesday (23rd February).

The bill as originally worded was designed to ensure all young people have access to accurate, balanced, Sex and Relationships Education that promotes equality and diversity, and to prevent faith schools from teaching that same sex relationships and the use of contraception are wrong.

The BHA, the Children's Rights Alliance for England and the Accord Coalition have condemned the new Government amendment, describing it as discriminatory.

The amendment to the Bill, tabled by the Secretary of State Ed Balls, would permit state-funded “faith schools” to teach "PSHE", which includes Sex and Relationships Education, “in a way that reflects the school’s religious character”.

However Ed Balls has claimed that this is “nonsense”, and that the impact of the new amendment is simply to allow faith schools to represent the religion of the school as one view among others, while still being required to deliver the full curriculum in a way that is accurate, balanced, and promotes equality.

The BHA and numerous other organisations dispute this interpretation.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Chaplains in the NHS

The following item appears in the latest NSS Newsline.

Hospital chaplains paid more than nurses and 150% more than cleaners – but which is more important? By Dennis Penaluna

Figures published on the Royal College of Nursing website concerning the NHS 'Agenda for Change' pay-scales clearly show that chaplains are valued more than the people whose work is absolutely essential for patient well-being.

The minimum starting salary for nurses is £20,710 pa and for chaplains it is £25,829, plus they also get extra for being called out, plus an additional amount as a national recruitment and retention payment of nearly £4,000. In all, a new-starter chaplain will probably earn around £32k pa.

Additionally, all chaplains received an average pay-rise last April of 6.1%. Nice work if you can get it – which you can't, of course, unless you are an ordained priest. The NHS employs around 1,000 full and part-time chaplains (mostly CofE) but only a bare handful of humanist practitioners.

Some of the most important people employed in hospitals, the porters and cleaners, start on the NHS's minimum wage of £6.77 per hour. The pay of a new starter chaplain is roughly 2½ times as much.

Our research into the cost of chaplains in the NHS revealed that most people mistakenly believe that hospital chaplains are there on a voluntary basis and get paid by their religious group. They are paid for by the tax-payer and they place a £42 million p.a. burden on the NHS.

Another myth to demolish is the claim by some in the CofE that the church pays for the training of healthcare chaplains. It does not! It might pay for them to be trained as priests but the NHS picks up the tab for their healthcare 'training'. They start on Band 5, the mid-point of which is £23,345 – nice training if you can get it. (You can't!)

The same Newsline includes this letter from one of our members:
Graham Martin-Royle:

There has been a lot of discussion about chaplains being employed by the NHS. I wonder how many people realise that chaplains are also employed by many other private companies? I wonder how many shareholders in private companies realise that their company is employing a chaplain? The old British Rail used to employ chaplains. Some of the train operating companies (TOCs) that now run the rail services are still employing these chaplains. Why?

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Meeting Report

This evening's replacement meeting attracted seven people, and most stayed until 9pm. This was enough for a lively discussion of a wide range of topics in the news, from voting systems, through assisted dying, to catholic child abuse and much else.

As one of the speakers observed, we do tend to fall into discussing the faults and eccentricities of religion as a default mode, rather than more positively humanist issues, but this is because the religions still pose most of the problems that concern us. This tendency was encouraged by having the "God Trumps" cards, with their caricatures of 24 religions or belief systems, to laugh at.

We now have 35 names on our list of people who have attended meetings and are kept informed of our activities, but a number of these have attended only one meeting, or appear only irregularly, and a few are non-humanists. It would be helpful to receive some feedback as to whether we are moving the group in the right direction, and whether there are other things we should be doing.

The next meeting on 11th March will be at the Arts Forum, where Tom Rees is due to speak to us on "Whatever Happened to Secularisation". More on that shortly.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Replacement Meeting.

Since the 11th February meeting was snowed off, there will be a replacement meeting at the Dripping Well pub on 18th February from 7 pm. This will be an open discussion evening, to discuss any issues those present want to raise.

Tom Rees who will be speaking to us in March has an article in the New Humanist (Jan/Feb issue) on the relationship of religion to income inequalities. I will bring a copy of the magazine and a set of the "God Trumps" cards that came with it.

Lesley suggests the doings of the Church of England General Synod may give food for thought.

There's an article on the Freethinker blog about Two Clerics in Sevenoaks who seem to have reverted to mediaeval doctrines about women.

Next Thursday 25th there is a meeting of the East Sussex SACRE which I hope to attend if I can work out how to get to Uckfield.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Tonight's Meeting Cancelled!

Sorry Folks! Snow is still falling here, and a thaw seems unlikely, several people have indicated they are unlikely to be able to get to the venue, so I've decided to call off this evening's meeting. It seemed all set to go just a day ago, and I was looking forward to it as being our best meeting yet. Such is life.

James Williams, who was due to speak to us, posted a link to the following story on facebook about a student moving creationist books to the religious section in a bookshop: censorship?. What do you think?

I hope James will be able to come to speak to us later in the year. Keep an eye on the Programme.

ADDENDUM: There is a lot going on in Brighton from tomorrow to the end of the month, at their science festival.

Monday, 8 February 2010

It's a Humanist Life

I received quite a nice 70th birthday present this evening in the form of the publication of an article I wrote for HumanistLife on Howard Jacobson and the Temple of Darwin, and it was only lightly edited. The image used, of A. C. Grayling and Howard Jacobson sitting on the steps below the statue of Charles Darwin was one that I obtained by screen capture from the Channel 4 film.

Earlier in the day, before the article appeared, I had filled in one of the forms on the HumanistLife site asking what the site was for, on the grounds that the headline story hadn't changed for 5 days. Is it intended to be a weekly magazine, a daily newsfeed, a bulletin for BHA staff to inform us of the party line, a blog, or a Humanist forum? I don't think they are clear on this yet. It is also not clear who the editor is, or the editorial staff. I hasten to say that I think it is a good development, but it needs to be more lively.

Since there was sleet here in the morning and snow in the afternoon I spent the day quietly in the warm, and listened to the radio. Start the Week featured Robert Beckford, a theologian, who will be doing The Book of Revelation for the Channel 4 series on the Bible. He interprets it in terms of what he thinks it meant to early christians living at the time of Nero. The trouble is that too many modern christians interpret it as a literal picture of the End of the World, and may be inclined to help the world on its way to Armaggedon.

The History of the World in 100 Objects from the British Museum featured the clay tablet telling the tale of Utnapishtim, the Babylonian equivalent of Noah. What annoyed me about this programme was the inclusion of comments from the Chief Rabbi who has his own peculiar interpretation of the Great Flood story, in which the entire destruction of the human race, apart from Noah and his family, is somehow seen as a supremely moral act. In the afternoon Ernie Rae and other theological guests discussed the Gilgamesh story on Beyond Belief. This is an aptly titled programme as the views of its participants are indeed often unbelievably weird. This time they weren't too weird, but did concentrate overmuch on death and immortality as being the main theme of the story.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Publicity in the Local Press

Publicity for our February meeting appeared in Hastings Observer on Friday 29 January page 15 under the headline "Science expert to talk to humanists". Most of the press release I sent was included (see earlier entry).

A few days ago I recevived a phone call from a reporter on the Hastings Observer asking for a Humanist opinion on the Pope's statement relating to the Equality Bill. Part of my reply has been published in an article in this Friday's issue page 3 as follows: George Jellis (sic) of the Hastings Humanists said: "Obviously we do not think very much of the Pope's comments." and "Lots of churchmen seem to think it is ok to discriminate against people on the basis of what we see as bigotry."

The BHA has condemned what they see as "the Pope's attack on equality". What he actually said was not so explicit: he claimed the bill was contrary to "natural law" (whatever that means) and would "impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs", but the implications are clear.

I also pointed out that the National Secular Society has launched a petition for the Vatican to pay for the Pope's visit, which is estimated to cost tax-payers £20 million.