Joint education reform initiative with Church of Scotland

January 27, 2014

By now many of you will have seen the joint proposal of the HSS & Church of Scotland, writes Douglas McLellan, HSS Chief Executive. This opportunity arose late last week and we moved quickly to grasp it. The HSS have a policy that there should be no religious observance in schools.

As things stand, the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 makes explicit
reference to religious observance as a compulsory act within
non-denominational schools. In fact, for schools to end religious
observance would require a local referendum in each local authority.
Therefore we need to change the 1980 Act to achieve the policy of no
religious observance in schools.

This would be difficult to
achieve on our own and the Church of Scotland have previously expressed a
desire to bring in Time for Reflection (TfR) as an alternative. To be
clear TfR is not just a name change. It has the clear objective of
removing acts of worship and any confessional nature that current
religious observance practises contain.

Scottish schools
should and will continue to help children develop a greater
understanding of themselves, their community and the world around them.
Current Education Scotland resources designed to help schools plan
religious observance activities are already very light on acts of
worship. The change in the legislation will help push Head teachers away
from tick box prayer assemblies to proper TfR. Furthermore, HSS
Education Officer Gary McLelland has pulled together a group to develop
additional materials that, if approved by Education Scotland, will offer
even more options for Heads Teachers.

The joint proposal
makes it clear that we both believe there is a need for a closer
scrutiny of current practice by Education Scotland and HMIE and that
this should be case as well for TfR. Both the Church of Scotland and the
Humanist Society Scotland also believe that requiring external visitors
to schools to agree with the equality and diversity policy of the
school, or local educational authority, would ameliorate situations
which have risen in the past.

This joint proposal is just a
first step in achieving our stated policy ambitions. If the Scottish
Government were to bring forward legislation to change the 1980 Act and
the Scottish Parliament voted to approve the changes, the HSS and many
other like-minded organisations would then have an opportunity to work
with civil servants to draft appropriate TfR guidance for schools and
then work with Head Teachers to ensure that TfR is truly inclusive and
equal for all. “

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