HSS welcomes calls for major reforms to Religious Observance in Schools

Humanist Society Scotland has welcomed the publication of an important report into the provision of religious observance in Scotland (and collective worship in England, Wales and Northern Ireland). HSS has followed up the release of this report with a call to Education Scotland and the Scottish Government to establish a working group to examine the rationale for the continuation of RO in schools, in-line with the report’s recommendations.

The report, compiled by The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) on Collective Worship, was launched at a public conference at the University of Leicester on 13th November 2015. In addition to the presentation of the Network’s findings, the conference – which was chaired by Lord Sutherland of Houndwood – also featured presentations from a number of influential figured from the UK and overseas. These included: the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief, Professor Heiner Bielefeldt; the sociologist of religion, Professor Linda Woodhead (Lancaster University); the Professor of Theology and Education, Mary Elizabeth Moore (Boston University); and the Professor of Education, Geir Skeie (Stockholm University).

The report makes some key recommendations, all of which HSS fully supports:

  1. It is recommended that each government urgently establishes a working group to consider, in the first instance, whether a rationale exists to require schools to arrange a collective activity in a distinct and designated period within the school timetable. This deliberation should take place within the framework of the six questions relating to rationale set out in this report, and in light of the aims and values of each country’s educational system.
  2. It is recommended that each government establishes a working group to review in detail the nature of the current duty, the extent of its implementation, and (to the extent they exist) the efficacy of inspection regimes. This review should consider the need for empirical research to inform its work.
The report also highlighted three Scotland-specific recommendations:
  • It is recommended that Education Scotland provide clear guidance as to what constitutes religious observance and where worship is situated within that.
  • It is recommended, in line with Section 6 of the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000, that children are consulted on the day to day running of the school as set out in the school’s Development Plan and that this should include consultation relating to religious observance.
  • It is recommended that the term ‘Religious Observance’ be formally changed to ‘Time for Reflection’ in order to be more inclusive.
Humanist Society Scotland has publicly stated its commitment to reform. In January 2014 we issues the following joint statement with the Church of Scotland:
‘The Church of Scotland and Humanist Society Scotland have called for legislation to be brought forward to change Religious Observance in schools to “Time for Reflection” as a way of making these events more inclusive and clearly not gatherings where one faith or belief system is promoted over another.’

Speaking after the release of the report, Gary McLelland, Head of Communications and Public Affairs for HSS, said:

“We welcome the publication of this report today. The report is a very comprehensive overview of the current state of law and policy around religious observance in Scotland.
“The report highlights some major challenges for the ongoing provision of RO in Scotland. The time has come for a full and frank debate about the future role of religion in education. It has been a decade since the last comprehensive review of RO in schools, and we agree with the authors of this report that the time has come for a fresh look.

“The outdated requirement for ‘religious’ observance has no place in a 21st century education system. We call upon Education Scotland and the Scottish Government to establish a working group to examine the rationale for the continuation of RO in schools, in-line with the report’s recommendations.”

The full report, and HSS response, can be found here: humanism.scot/what-we-do/research/collective-worship-and-religious-observance-in-schools/


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