An image of Auldearn Primary School near Nairn, a stone building with large windows and a slate roof, flanked by pine trees and with a highland landscape in the background.

Highland Council removes votes from religious representatives on education committee

May 15, 2023

We are delighted to hear that Highland Council has voted to remove voting rights from unelected religious representatives on its education committee. The motion passed on Thursday 11 May by 40 votes to 17, a big margin of victory and a sign of a growing wave of support for altering voting rules on education committees around the country.

At present, Scottish law requires local councils to appoint three religious representatives to their education committees. Normally these consist of representatives of the Church of Scotland, the Catholic Church, and a third body or group. This throwback to Scotland’s religious past can give church ministers more say in determining local education policy than teachers or parents.

However, in 2019 the Scottish Government clarified that there was no need for these faith advocates to have voting rights. This decision was made after the votes of unelected religious representatives resulted in the closure of Blaringone Primary School in Perth and Kinross. We’ve since seen five out of 32 Scottish councils vote to remove votes from religious representatives, including Orkney just a few days ago.

Highland Council’s decision is a win for democracy and reflects the increasingly secular profile of Scotland’s young people and education system. Recent YouGov research found that only 27% of people in the Highlands and Islands describe themselves as Christians.

Humanist Society CEO Fraser Sutherland said: “We are glad to hear of the decision by Highland Council to ensure that decisions on local issues are taken democratically by elected members who are accountable to the electorate. Giving voting rights to churches gives them more say on how schools are run than teachers, pupils, and parents. Other local authorities across Scotland should reflect on Highland’s decision and the similar decision in Orkney last week and review their own voting arrangements.”

Image: Alpin Stewart/Creative Commons

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Sign our Fair School Votes petition which calls on the Scottish Government to rescind legislation that requires local authorities to have three unelected religious representatives on them.

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