CHECKLIST FOR MANAGING 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?
The Right of Withdrawal from RE
The parent / carer of a pupil at a community, foundation or voluntary school or academy has the right to request that their child be excused from all or part of the RE provided.
Note that pupils over 16 can opt out of collective worship if they wish, but they cannot opt out of receiving RE unless they are over 18.
The purpose of the law on withdrawal has always been to allow parents and communities to make arrangements for their own preferred RE not so that children can take part in other studies or activities.
Schools should ensure that parents / carers who want to withdraw their children from RE are aware that RE is taught in an objective way that is relevant to all pupils and respects their own personal beliefs. They should be made aware of the RE syllabus learning objectives and what is covered in the RE curriculum and should be given the opportunity to discuss this, if they wish. The school may also wish to review such a request each year, in discussion with the parents. It is good practice to publish the RE policy in the prospectus and on the school website.
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.
Where parents have requested that their child is withdrawn, their right must be respected, and where RE is integrated in the curriculum, the school will need to discuss the arrangements with the parents or carers to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.
If the school is a secondary school and parents have withdrawn a pupil from RE provided at the school and asked for alternative RE to be provided in accordance with the tenets of a particular religion or denomination, then the LA must either:
- provide facilities for the alternative RE to be given at the school unless there are special circumstances which would make it unreasonable to do so, or
- agree to outside arrangements being made as long as no financial burden falls on the LA or school as a result of these arrangements.
In the case of a pupil at a maintained boarding school where a sixth-former, or the parents of a pupil below the sixth form, requests that the pupil be allowed to receive RE in accordance with the tenets of a particular religion or denomination outside school hours, the governing body must make arrangements to give the pupil a reasonable opportunity to do so. This could involve making facilities available at the school, but any such arrangements cannot be funded out of the school’s budget or by the local authority (LA) (Section 71 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998).