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A Lone Voice?

You might think that advising a local council on how to teach Religious Education is a waste of time. After all, you’re likely to be a lone voice among many. But Phil Topham has been finding out about something called SACRE. If evangelicals don’t speak up – other voices in our schools just get louder.

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Did you know it’s still a legal requirement for schools in England to teach about Christianity in their Religious Education lessons?

I must confess I was surprised to hear it. You’d think Christianity wasn’t even on the agenda in 2017 but the reality is quite different. Schools have a choice when it comes to which other faiths they teach – but they must always teach about Christianity.

That’s why some members of FIEC churches are working hard to ensure that an accurate representation of the Christian faith is presented to children in lessons across the country.

Chris Hughes from Above Bar Church in Southampton is one of them. He is a member of a local SACRE group in Hampshire. SACRE means Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education and gathers members of different faith groups in a local authority together so that they can advise on the way religion is taught in schools.

For Chris, this is a really good opportunity to make sure there is proper representation of evangelical Christians. He said:

“So often Christianity is portrayed like an episode of the Vicar of Dibley. I don’t want children to think that our faith is all about men and women in frocks. Instead I want to influence what is being taught to children about Christianity and volunteering on SACRE is a way to do that.

It enables me to talk to those involved in education locally and try to influence good quality teaching in schools. I get to work alongside other evangelicals from different denominations and it means I can meet Christian teachers to help and support them too.”

How SACRE works

Each SACRE committee has representatives from four groups. They are: County Councillors, Teachers Associations, the Church of England and all other religious groups. Chris sits on the committee in Hampshire as part of these “other religious groups”. He represents FIEC churches because there is good FIEC representation in the county.

As well as members of other Christian denominations, Chris sits on the advisory group with Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, Baha’is, Buddhists and Humanists. He says it might sound like he is a lone voice but says if he doesn’t speak up, the other voices just get louder:

“Being part of SACRE isn’t about encouraging schools to indoctrinate faith. But it is about ensuring they teach about religion: how faith groups understand their faith and what is important to them. Every five years the Local Authority has to revise or update their syllabus, as a SACRE member I have an opportunity to be involved in that work.

We also monitor how that syllabus is delivered in schools across the Hampshire County area and that, in Hampshire, enables us to visit schools and see what is happening in real classrooms with real pupils and teachers.

This role has given me great opportunities to take part in school assemblies and RE lessons too – with some schools asking me back regularly.”

Getting Involved

Maybe this is a ministry that you could take part in?

SACRE is designed to represent the prominent faith groups in any given community. So if you are the only FIEC church in your area it’s unlikely that you could get involved. However, if there are a number of FIEC churches and no representation on the SACRE committee, it might be worth speaking to your Local Authority if you want to be involved in this ministry.

It would be great to hear from FIEC churches who have a SACRE representative so that we know who is involved in this ministry around the country and we can offer support and guidance. If you would like any more information or advice we’ll do what we can to help.

Phil Topham photo
Phil Topham - FIEC Head of Communication

Phil looks after FIEC's internal and external communication. He is married to Kath and they live near Market Harborough and attend Christ Church in the town.