‘No change’ on #ReligiousObservance, says Scottish Government

Despite two high-profile reports, featuring input from a range of key stakeholders and policy experts, calling for significant reform of Religious Observance in Scotland, there is no be no change according to the Scottish Government.

On the 5th December 2015, Alison McInnes MSP lodged two written questions in The Scottish Parliament, to ask the Scottish Government:

AHRC PQ A McInnes 150116

‘what its position is on each of the Scotland-specific recommendations made by the Arts and Humanities Research Council on Collective Worship in its report, Collective Worship and Religious Observance in Schools: An Evaluation of Law and Policy in the UK.’ and;

CORAB PQ A McInnes 150116

‘what its position is on the recommendation made by the Independent Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life in its report, Living with Difference: Community, Diversity and the Common Good, that “the legal requirement for schools to hold acts of collective worship should be repealed, and replaced by a requirement to hold inclusive times for reflection”.’

The answers were published on Wednesday 20th January.

The Scottish Government’s position was outlined by Minister Alasdair Allan MSP when he said:

The Arts and Humanities Research Council published in November 2015 a report “Collective Worship and Religious Observance in Schools: An Evaluation of Law and Policy in the UK.” The Scotland-specific recommendations in the report are as follows:(a) It is recommended that Education Scotland provide clear guidance as to what constitutes religious observance and where worship is situated within that.(b) 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 relation to religious observance.

(c) It is recommended that the term ‘Religious Observance’ be formally changed to ‘Time for Reflection’ in order to be more inclusive.

In terms of advice available to schools, Education Scotland already provides clear guidance on Religious Observance/Time for Reflection which is the product of collaborative work with stakeholders – including CfE Briefing Paper 16, which has been endorsed by Humanist Society Scotland. Education Scotland is working to develop exemplification of good practice in Religious Observance/Time for Reflection in different contexts. This includes the important principle that young people should be involved in the planning, delivery and evaluation of it. Schools themselves can already decide whether to refer to these experiences as Religious Observance or Time for Reflection; no legal change is required to enable this.

The report of the Independent Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life “Living with Difference: Community, Diversity and the Common Good” contains 12 recommendations about the place of religion in public life. These include the recommendation that:“All pupils in state-funded schools should have a statutory entitlement to a curriculum about religion, philosopy [sic] and ethics that is relevant to today’s society, and the broad framework of such a curriculum should be nationally agreed. The legal requirement for schools to hold acts of collective worship should be repealed, and replaced by a requirement to hold inclusive times for reflection”There is no legal requirement in Scotland for schools to ‘hold acts of collective worship’; instead the terms ‘Religious Observance’ or ‘Time for Reflection’ are used in statute and guidance. Education Scotland guidance on Religious Observance (Time for Reflection) addresses how effective Religious Observance may take a variety of forms.

So there is to be no change.

Responding to this HSS Chief Executive Gordon MacRae said:

“We are very disappointed that the Scottish Government will not be taking any action as a result of these two high-profile reports. Scotland has historically been at the forefront in pursuing progressive reforms to the treatment of philosophy and belief in education, so this is discouraging.

“The two reports analysed the policy situation across the UK, including a detailed assessment of what happens in Scotland. Both reports, which involved input from a range of stakeholders, concluded that religious observance needs to be reformed.

“With almost one-in-two adults, and over two thirds of young people, identifying as non-religious, perhaps it’s time to abandon this archaic approach from the 19th Century. We know that the Scottish Government haven’t undertaken a serious review of this policy since 2005, and we think its time has come. It’s time that education policy reflected the reality of modern Scottish society.”

Alison McInnes MSP reacted saying:
“It’s been over ten years since the Scottish Government undertook the last serious review into how having a time for reflection in schools fits into education policy.

“These two reports and their recommendations should have been the spark for Ministers to take the reins on promoting a modern and inclusive society. Religious observance in schools springs from another century. A school assembly can have an important role in fostering a sense of community, but only if it reflects the diversity of the community locally. And that includes recognising that many young people identify as non-religious. We need stronger action from the Scottish Government to ensure inclusive thinking on this trickles right down to schools so all children can study in a progressive and equal environment.”

For more information or comment contact Gary McLelland on 07813060713 or gary@humanism.scot


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