A voting box bearing a religious symbol

Church representatives have no automatic right to vote on schools

April 24, 2019

Humanist Society Scotland has welcomed a new statement from the Scottish Government that the long-standing practice of giving religious representatives the right to vote on education matters at local authority level is not a legal requirement.

Humanist Society members speaking to the public about religious reps in 2016

Humanist Society Scotland is campaigning to remove voting rights from unelected religious representatives on local authorities and is asking its supporters to back the Fair School Votes campaign.

As a result of the recent statement, Humanist Society Scotland has written to the leaders of each of Scotland’s 32 local authorities asking that they remove any voting rights to ensure decisions on local schooling are decided by democratically elected councillors.

In a recent press statement, the Scottish Government said, “Where an education authority appoints a committee to discharge their functions, the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 requires councils to appoint members to that committee, including religious representatives.”

They go on to state that “voting rights on committees are a matter for each local authority”.

This statement comes on the back of the decision to close Blaringone Primary School in Kinross-shire which was criticised by Humanist Society Scotland. The decision to close was down to the Religious Representatives votes which tipped the balance of the vote. Had the vote only been taken by elected councillors the school would not have been closed. This decision was blasted by the local community council and parent council of the school as “undemocratic” and “devastating”.

Welcoming the statement, Humanist Society Scotland Campaigns Manager, Fraser Sutherland, said:

This new, and very welcome, statement from the Scottish Government clarifies that there is no requirement for councils to have religious representatives voting on how local schools are run.

With the fact that local councils are elected by proportional representation, in most local authority areas unelected religious representatives hold the balance of power on education decisions. Attention now turns to councils to review their local policies on who is allowed to vote on education decisions. We call on COSLA to urgently review the status and power given to some religious representatives across the country given there is no legal requirement for them to vote on key decisions like closing schools.

It is clear that important decisions relating to education should be done on a democratic basis – by people who can be held to account by the electorate. There is, of course, nothing to stop faith groups participating in discussions relating to local education in the same manner as any other interested local community group.

Fraser Sutherland, Humanist Society Scotland

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