Judgement on GCSE religious content hailed as ‘common sense’

 The case of R (Fox and others ) v Secretary of State for Education was brought by a trio of parents who asserted that the new subject content document governing the GCSE Religious Studies syllabus gave unlawful priority to the teaching of religious views over non-religious views, including those such as humanism.[1]

Today, Mr Justice Warby agreed with their assertion that it did not meet the requirements for pluralism and equal treatment.

Dan Rosenberg, Partner at law firm Maxwell Gillott – a trading style of Simpson Millar LLP – represented the families. He explained: “This is a good and common sense result which reflects well upon British society and values. It is important that children at this formative age (14-16) gain exposure to the wide range of beliefs that are held in this country, including non-religious beliefs and this judgment ensures that.”

The Department for Education’s position was that its subject content was consistent with the requirements for the statutory provision of religious education. 

“This was challenged by three parents and their children who would be of an age that meant they would study the new GCSE curriculum,” added Dan Rosenberg.  “The case was supported by the British Humanist Association and the parents had beliefs and values that did not have a religious basis.

“They argued that the government’s position would lead to those responsible for framing pupil’s curriculums to wrongly believe that religious education can be delivered at key stage 4 by nothing more than the religious studies GCSE.”

However, the court found that the Government’s assertion made in respect of the subject content was wrong.

“The Court agreed that those reading the subject content would assume the delivery of the Religious Studies GCSE will fulfil the state’s legal obligations as to religious education, when that would not necessarily be the case.

“This was highly significant because it meant those responsible for religious education would rely exclusively on GCSEs specified in accordance with the subject content, something that could be enough to meet the state’s RE obligations but will not necessarily be so.” 

Dan explains the Department for Education will now have to consider its options carefully.

“It is now for the Government to react to the Court’s decision and clarify to all those involved in the setting of RE curriculums that the new religious studies GCSE will not necessarily be sufficient by itself to discharge their statutory obligations to provide religious education to 14-16 year olds. 

It is for the Government to provide clear guidance to all involved how the wider religious education obligations at Key Stage 4 can be met in light of this Judgment.

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association, said “We are very pleased with this Judgment.  The Court has affirmed the principle that non-religious world views and religious world views need to be afforded equal respect, and that a pluralistic teaching of Religious Education needs to incorporate this.

It is a good thing for children to be exposed to as wide a range of views as possible, particularly at such a formative age, and this properly reflects British values.   We look forward to working constructively with the Department for Education in the future. “

Kate Bielby, one of the Claimant’s in the case said “I am satisfied with the result of the case.  It is important that children in this country have the opportunity to learn about all sorts of different beliefs that people hold, including non-religious beliefs about the world. “


Simpson Millar LLP is a Fairpoint Group PLC company which successfully represents the rights of individuals and their families via a network of 13 regional UK offices and through its long-standing association with membership organisations.

The firm was the first ever UK law firm to obtain Lexcel Accreditation from the Law Society, and the first to obtain the Diversity in Business Accreditation.

Simpson Millar LLP employs more than 500 people in offices in Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, London, Wimbledon, Bristol, Cardiff, Lancaster, Gateshead, Newcastle,  Kingston-Upon-Thames.



[1] While the UK is predominantly a Christian country, and 59% of the population identified themselves as Christian in the most recent census, the new GCSE subject content prioritises religious world views over non-religious beliefs.  Those in the census describing themselves as having no religion (25%) or not stating a religion (7%) significantly exceeds the five non-Christian religions represented in the subject content – ranging from just under 4.8% for Muslim down to 0.4% for Buddhist.

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