Withdrawal from all or part of RE
Those of us committed to inclusive religious education always hope that no parents / carers will wish to withdraw their children from all or part of the subject. Nevertheless, it remains the right of parents / carers and to post-16 students, to withdraw from RE (and / or collective worship) if they wish to.
However, the right of withdrawal does not extend to other areas of the curriculum when, as may happen on occasion, spontaneous questions on religious matters are raised by pupils or there are issues related to religion that arise in other subjects such as history or citizenship.
Withdrawal from RE is therefore a matter for whole school policy, not just for the RE leader to consider.
Parents have the right to choose whether or not to withdraw their child from RE without influence from the school, although a school should ensure parents or carers are informed of this right and are aware of the educational objectives and content of the RE syllabus. In this way, parents can make an informed decision. Where parents have requested that their child is withdrawn, their right must be respected, and where RE is integrated in the curriculum, the school will need to discuss the arrangements with the parents or carers to explore how the child’s withdrawal can be best accommodated. If pupils are withdrawn from RE, schools have a duty to supervise them, though not to provide additional teaching or to incur extra cost. Pupils will usually remain on school premises.
Where a pupil has been withdrawn, the law provides for alternative arrangements to be made for RE of the kind the parent wants the pupil to receive (Section 71(3) of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998).
This RE could be provided at the school in question, or the pupil could be sent to another school where suitable RE is provided if this is reasonably convenient. If neither approach is practicable, outside arrangements can be made to provide the pupil with the kind of RE that the parent wants, and the pupil may be withdrawn from school for a reasonable period of time to allow them to attend this external RE.
Outside arrangements for RE are allowed as long as the LA is satisfied that any interference with the pupil’s attendance at school resulting from the withdrawal will affect only the start or end of a school session.
Managing the right of withdrawal
The following points can be shared with the headteacher and governors, who have responsibility for ensuring that provision is made for RE (and collective worship) and that parents have information about the right of withdrawal.
- Is the school careful to ensure that RE is of educational value to all pupils, whatever their belief background, thus reducing the likelihood of parental / carer requests for withdrawal?
- Does the school ensure that the nature, objectives and content of RE are shared with parents?
- Are parents or carers notified about plans for RE as part of the curriculum for the coming session for their child’s class?
- Does the school have a procedure in place for parents or carers who want to withdraw children from RE?
- Does the organisation of the curriculum allow parents to exercise the right of withdrawal?
- What practical implications arise from a request by parents to withdraw a child from RE and how might they be addressed?
- Are all those who teach RE aware of the school’s procedures?
- Are all teachers aware of their own right not to have to teach RE?