Report from an Evening on Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies

Did you ever wonder what children are taught in school these days under the aegis of Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies?

On Monday 12th March 2012, Graeme Nixon, of The Scottish Joint Committee on Religious Moral Philosophical Studies, came to talk to members of the Humanist Society Scotland in Glasgow

Graeme Nixon is a lecturer in the school of Education at the University of Aberdeen. His principle teaching role is to co-ordinate Religious Education programmes for graduate and undergraduate student teachers at both primary ( 4 to 12 ) and secondary level ( 12 to 18 ). Graeme also teaches thinking skills to students and as CPD for teachers (University profile).

He was accompanied by two colleagues; Pat Boyd, convenor of the Scottish Joint Committee and Joe Walker, Teacher of RE at Liberton High School, Edinburgh.

He began by saying that traditional churches were declining fast, some predicting that the Church of Scotland would be gone by 2040. However he claimed that evangelism, in the shape of new age religions, was on the increase and religion would always be with us.

Graeme said that religion had always been closely associated with education. The Church of Scotland minister, John Knox, in the 16th Century, was responsible for introducing education to all boys thus paving the way for the Scottish Enlightenment. In the modern era, Richard Dawkins, he claimed, thanked religion for cultural literacy.

He talked about the Miller Report from 1972 which brought a change to the way religion was taught; it became non-confessional and now encompasses many faiths and is child centred, focussing on ethical issues. Many Primary schools are teaching philosophy with great success. Teachers are trained to avoid indoctrination. Many Europeans countries look to Scotland with envy as we move away from the confessional approach.

We argued that Scotland should not go down the secular route as that would be anathema to most parents and that freedom is not always a good thing.

Last year, 2011, 35000 pupils studied a core unit of Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies and 4000 went onto the study the subject as a higher

An audience of about 50, mostly members of the HSS, listened to him politely without interruption but when the opportunity came the questions flowed.

He admitted that some schools did not seem to have heard that the confessional approach had been changed and indoctrination in the teachings of the Church of Scotland continued to predominate with scant attention given to other religions. Humanism or any secular stance was fortunate to get a mention. Interestingly he claimed that Religious Observance was clearly intended to be a celebration of values shared by all members of the school community although he was aware that in many schools the session consisted of the minister coming in and conducting a church service.

At the conclusion of the meeting we agreed that we had more in common that we had previously imagined and that good progress could be made by continuing this dialogue.

They promised to consult the Committee about the possibility of a member of the Humanist Society Scotland being invited to join.

Report by Clare Marsh, Education Officer, for the Humanist Society Scotland.


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