The HSS School Visiting Programme

religious approval teachers

By Ian Rodger

When I joined Humanist Society Scotland, I had no idea we had a school visiting programme, let alone that it was something I could get involved in!

Thankfully my journey through the various experiences and activities available to me as a member of HSS led me to try out this work about five years ago. Since then I have been on a range of school visits, talking to students aged between 4 and 18. I have presented five minute assembly talks on a given moral issue, been grilled by groups of 7 to 18 year olds on what it is to be a Humanist, and answered student questions as part of a panel of various belief groups including Church of Scotland, Spiritualists, Buddhists, Church of Latter-day Saints, and the Free Presbyterians.

This may seem a daunting variation of both audience age range and presentational skills, but once you recognise the basic ethos of Humanism and the acceptance of the right of the individual to choose, most of the hard questions are easily answered.

What do I get from this activity? A constant buzz from each new opportunity to talk to and listen to the students who bring refreshing open-mindedness with their honest questions for clarification. I have been asked if “What I would do if I found a sick animal?” by one P4 student and “do I think that the abortion limit should be 22 instead of 24 weeks?” by a S6 pupil.

The younger pupils are happy to listen to moral stories and a very brief introduction to Humanism. If there is more time, like a class meeting of 30 minutes, the questions can be quite deep and the philosophy of Humanism quizzed: How were we created? What happens when you die? Do you believe in protecting the planet?

In secondary schools the exam students have specific paths to follow. They need to get different belief views on the big questions so the format is similar in most of the visits: “Do you believe in abortion?” “Do you believe in sex before marriage?” “Do you believe in euthanasia?” “What do you think about alcohol?” Students are enthusiastic in their research and keen to form a range of view points which will in turn help them to arrive at their own views.

The questions may be fairly standard however the students are interested in how the views have been arrived at. It is here that the wider discussions stray from answers that can be found in our material and the school visitor must ensure that the wider discussions acknowledge what is HSS policy and what is their own view as a Humanist.

The current Curriculum for Excellence (C for E) provides a fairly wide remit to teach students to research and question all sorts of beliefs, unlike my memory of the Church of Scotland dominance of my Religious/moral path at my “non denominational school”. Because of this freedom to discuss and challenge different beliefs the RME/RMPS (religious moral and philosophical studies) exams have seen a significant increase in interest from students.

RME (religious and moral education) teaching staff have to weave their way through the C for E remit and often access descriptors from web pages (including our own documents and website), which they pass on to the students. Less than 10% of these teachers have used the services of the HSS visitors. The struggle to find the best form of contact with schools has been our major challenge for many years.

Thanks to our recent training programme we have over 40 trained visiting staff. We now need to make as many contacts with schools as possible and we are looking at new methods of contacting RME teachers directly.

We have introduced a manual for our school visitors and re-launched joint evaluation forms for both the visitors and the schools. Our school visitors provide a network of support, passing on information, and sharing ideas and concerns. We hope to continue a series of networking meetings to keep this collective support fresh.

The good news is that the majority of the school contacts we have made have been very positively received, and return visits have been booked.

Can you help us increase our school visits?
If you have school-age children, grandchildren, nephews, or nieces you can ask their school if they are aware of the HSS service for assemblies, class/exam talks and discussions.
If they show interest please send their name and email contact to dawn@humanism.scot

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