Scotland’s first conference to examine secular and religious teaching

In May, Scotland’s first conference examining the balance between secular and religious teaching and observance in Scottish schools will take place in Edinburgh.

The conference, named: “Affording Parity of Esteem: redressing the balance in moral, philosophical and religious education”, takes place on May 2,2012 and is being organised by Mackay Hannah in response to an earlier conference called “Keeping Faith in Schools” held in 2010.


Since 2005, Scottish schools have been required to make parents aware that they can remove their child from religious education and observance. School are also required to offer a suitable alternative activity.

The event will examine whether or not non-religious parents are being afforded their legal rights within schools, as well as how teachers and students can balance secular and religious teaching.

Speakers from across religious and moral bodies will address the contentious issue of how religious and moral education and religious observance is handled and how Scottish schools are responding to changing attitudes to religion in wider society.

The conference, which will also examine best practice in offering a balance in moral, philosophical and religious education, has attracted high profile speakers from all perspectives in the debate including: Ewan Aitken, Church of Scotland; Dr Claire Cassidy, Lecturer, University of Strathclyde and Patrick Harvie, MSP.

Parents and pupils will also be addressing the conference and the findings of new research into public awareness will be announced.

Professor Brian Boyd, Director, The Tapestry Partnership, who is speaking at the conference said: “Curriculum for Excellence is predicated on the UNESCO aims for education – learning to be, learning to live together, learning to do and learning to know. Learning to be implies that every young person in Scotland has the right to explore what it is to be human in the 21st century and that right should be free of indoctrination or prejudice. Humanism offers young people an alternative world view to that espoused by organised religions, and young people should have access to its principles in the interest of balance and fairness.

Higher order thinking skills are among the goals of Curriculum for Excellence and nowhere are these more important than in the area of Relgious, Moral and Philosophical Studies.

Humanists are not asking for radical reform or changes to legislation. The goal is simply parity of esteem with religion and clarity on the rights of young people and parents/carers when RMPS and religious observance takes place within Scottish schools.”

Clare Marsh, Education officer for the Humanist Society Scotland, which campaigns for secular rights in education, said: “I think this conference is long overdue. We have heard from many parents who are not aware of their rights in this respect and those who are, are generally disappointed by the quality of alternative activity offered.

“In line with the curriculum for excellence goal, we should be educating our children in the full spectrum of religious, philosophical and moral views and encouraging independence of thought by allowing them to make up their own minds. Currently they are too often being indoctrinated with a particular belief system which doesn’t represent modern Scotland.”

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