Religion and belief


Religion and belief

What does religion and belief have to do with early years settings?

There are a number of ways that religion and belief has historically played a part in pre-school life.

The pre-school sector has long had established links to local churches and other faith-based premises because these are often used for by early years settings to run sessions. Some of these settings are faith based where as others are only associated with faith groups because they rent their premises from them. Even if settings are not religious (secular) they often form close partnerships with local faith groups, with both parties taking an active part in each other's activities. However, the recent growth in early education has meant that the location and the purpose of early years premises are now much more varied and less likely to link with local places of worship. This results in settings having less opportunity to learn about aspects of religion and belief, which are often integral to the lives of families using the setting.

The Equality Act 2010 sets out provisions to protect individuals against discrimination on grounds of religion or belief (including lack of religion or belief) when goods, facilities and services are being provided. These provisions include the delivery of education and other services.

The principles of inclusion are linked to the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), which means that early years providers must oppose all discrimination and prejudice, and have regard for children’s entitlement and right be treated fairly in relation to their home belief or religion.

What is the difference between a religious belief and non-religious belief?

The Equality Act defines religion as any religion, religious or philosophical belief. This includes all the major religions, as well as less widely practiced ones. The only limitation is that the religion must have a clear structure in place.

It is more difficult to define a belief because descriptions of belief are constantly broadening and may include beliefs such as atheism and humanism. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that ‘a belief must be more than merely an opinion or idea. It must attain a level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance, must be worthy of respect in a democratic society and must not be incompatible with human dignity’.

Should we celebrate all religious festivals in our setting?

No. It is far better to celebrate a small number of events and festivals with knowledge and sincerity than celebrate many more without. The UK has such a diverse religious population that it would not be practical, or achievable to cover all religious festivals in one early years setting.

The last UK Census showed that although Christianity is the main religion, there are also large communities of Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Jews, and smaller communities of Baha'is, Buddhists, Jains and Zoroastrians and that is to name just a few.

It is very important that children and families feel they belong in early years settings and the best way to achieve this is to make them feel valued. Instead of trying to celebrate every religious festival, settings should show families that they are truly valued by inviting staff and families to share their beliefs so that this information contributes towards other activities, which explore the real lives of local families and their communities.

How can we ensure that religion and belief are included in our curriculum activities and other work?

The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework is designed to be fully inclusive of all children’s needs. Practitioners can help older pre-school children explore and question individual differences including familiar and non-familiar religious and belief systems. Children can be offered a choice of resources in role-play such as clothes and symbols. They can also be introduced to the differences in cultures and religions by sharing stories, listening to music, dancing, cooking and eating new foods. This way, children learn to understand that families are all different and by exploring and sharing these differences we all can learn to appreciate and value the depth, diversity of each others lives.

One of the most effective ways of ensuring practice is inclusive and non-discriminatory is to invite staff members and families to share information about their faiths and beliefs so that knowledge can be gained and shared. There are a number of simple steps settings can take to keep informed and ensure that their provision is fully inclusive for families and staff with specific religious or personal beliefs. These could include:

  • Raising awareness of different faith systems and religious observance and holy days.
  • Staff knowledge and understanding as to how specific faith and belief systems affect families and staff. To find out more visit the Multi Faith Centre or the BBC.
  • Ensure that an equal opportunity policy and the associated procedures show that the setting’s values and celebrates equality and diversity. These documents should aim to create an inclusive environment where the religious, cultural and non-religious beliefs and practices of families and staff are respected.
  • Providing appropriate activities and resources to reflect the different cultures and beliefs of families in the setting.
  • Whenever possible, making space available for prayer (and ablution facilities,again if possible).
  • Ensure that all staff attend equality and diversity training.
  • Carefully consider the preparation and provision of all food in the setting and also the dietary requirements of families and staff such as halal, vegan and kosher foods.

These small steps can make all the difference in demonstrating to families that even if their beliefs are not shared, they can still be explored and valued.