Renewed calls to end religious approval for teachers

Renewed calls have been made regarding bringing to an end religious approval for teachers.

In an interview with the Sunday Herald, Larry Flanagan head of Scotland’s largest teaching union EIS said of the approval system which currently exists in Scotland’s denominational schools:

“We are not in favour of the current operation of approval by the Catholic Church.

“What used to exist before was a limited operation of approval around pastoral case posts. By and large we would prefer not to see approval there at all.

“If you apply to work in a [Catholic school] then de facto you are accepting that’s the nature of the school. It would be a reasonable expectation that you would not behave counter to that kind of ethos. So, on that basis, there wouldn’t necessarily be the need for any kind of ring-fencing of particular posts.”

This most recent call from the head of a 60,000 strong teaching union adds further pressure on the role of religious organisations in Scotland’s schools.

Humanist Society Scotland’s Campaign and Communications Manager Fraser Sutherland welcomed the comments and said:

“We don’t believe that discrimination on the basis of religious background is appropriate in recruiting teachers for Scotland’s schooling system. Children and young people deserve to be taught by the best teachers in all Scottish schools no matter what their religion is or is not.

“We don’t tolerate discrimination for recruitment of other public servants like doctors or police officers, so why should we tolerate it for teachers? The Humanist Society Scotland believe Scotland’s schooling system should be multi-denominational, with schools being inclusive to both children and staff, of all faiths and none, in all that they do.”

Young people given ‘voice’ but not ‘choice’ in new Religious Observance guidance

The Humanist Society Scotland has welcomed the publication of new Scottish Government guidance to head teachers on Religious Observance in Scottish schools as “a step in the right direction”.

The updated guidance was developed in response to call for a Judicial Review lodged by Humanist Society Scotland at the Court of Session that aimed to secure rights for non-religious young people in Scotland’s schools. HSS argued that existing guidance did not accurately reflect the policy statements of Ministers and officials. The case has been ‘sisted’ (paused) since December 2016 to allow Scottish Ministers time to consult and publish updated guidance on pupil involvement in discussions about their participation in Religious Observance in state schools. In light of this new guidance, HSS will now withdraw its legal action. You can download the new guidance from the bottom of this page.

This new guidance will ask headteachers to ensure students views are considered when discussing their involvement in religious observance at school. It does not, however, provide an independent statutory right for young people to opt out of Religious Observance such as that enjoyed by senior pupils in England and Wales.

Commenting on the new guidance, Gordon MacRae, Chief Executive of Humanist Society Scotland said:

“Today’s updated guidance gives young people in Scotland a voice, but not yet a choice, when it comes to their participation in Religious Observance in state schools.

“Scottish Ministers are to be congratulated on this new guidance and for responding positively to the Court decision to consider our Judicial Review last year. We were happy to agree a pause proceedings last December to allow them to take action and today’s guidance is a clear step in the right direction in the protection of young people’s human rights.”

Mr MacRae added:

“Today’s updated guidance only came about due to the legal action undertaken by Humanist Society Scotland and funded by our members and supporters.

“We remain disappointed that Court has not had an opportunity to consider our view, backed by expert legal opinion, that the current religious observance requirements in the classroom is incompatible with young people’s article 9 human rights to freedom of thought, belief or religion. HSS is now working with a number of young people to seek the earliest possible opportunity to support representations based on this human rights argument.”

Humanists call on faith bodies to boycott recruitment of religious rep for Aberdeen Schools

Humanist Society Scotland have today called on the members of Aberdeen’s minority faith groups to boycott the recruitment process for a new religious representative to the City Council Education Committee.

At present the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Church each have a representative. Council officers are advertising for a member of any other faith body to fill the vacant third seat. Religious reps have full voting rights in committee meetings but cannot be voted out by the community and are not required to adhere to Ethical Standards in Public Life (Act).

HSS are campaigning to change the law that compels councils in Scotland to appoint three church reps. They are urging supporters to sign an online petition at

Vanessa Smith, Convener of Aberdeen Humanists, part of HSS, said:

“Church representatives are unelected, unrepresentative and unaccountable. And yet they are still able to vote on every council decision about education in the City.

“Aberdeen Council are simply doing what is required of them by law but there is nothing to compel Aberdeen’s faith community to take up the vacant seat. I hope we can persuade members of the faith community to leave the vacant seat empty and instead seek to work together to hold our democratically elected councillors to account for the choices they make about schools across the city.

“Removing church representatives further ensures an opportunity for children from different backgrounds to learn and socialise together, breaking down the barriers that divide us and promoting social cohesion.”

Humanist School Visitor Training now open to HSS Members

Being an HSS School Visitor is a great way to get more involved, and help to educate young people about humanism. This half-day training course will enable you to join our network of trained school visitors.

Being an HSS School Visitor is a voluntary role and it is very flexible, it’s completely up to you how much, or how little, time you are able to give.

HSS School Visitors take part in RME (Religious and Moral Education) lessons at the invitation of teachers, and help to demonstrate how non-religious ethics, such as Humanism, can be applied in the real world.

As an HSS School Visitor you can expect to get requests from schools, youth clubs and other groups to participate in classes, group discussions and debates. You will have support from the HSS staff team as well as the network of other school visitors across Scotland.

All HSS school visitors should be paid-up members of the Society, or prepared to become a member during the training.

You can now register for either of the training days:

We hope to have more training days available in other parts of  Scotland in the coming months.

Catholic church condemned for using “blocking tactics” against sex education

The Catholic church been condemned by Humanist Society Scotland in a bitter row with the NHS in Scotland over what they call “sinister” plans to open sex and relationships centres in or near their schools.

Sex and relationships education at state-funded Catholic schools has long been the subject of bitter debate – with church officials imposing strict regulation on what can and can’t be taught in classrooms.

In November 2014 Humanist Society Scotland ran a campaign to have guidance around sex education reformed. In their submission to a Scottish Government consultation Humanist Society Scotland highlighted correspondence between Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board and The Scottish Parliament Health and Sport Committee:

“We do have a concern that denominational schools which represents a third of the school estate in this area, may not be providing the same high quality level of SHRE to children, young people and parents. We have no feedback available from denominational schools on what is being taught, what training teaching staff may have had or what involvement parents have had in their children‘s learning. From our own staff that routinely work with schools, we have an understanding that they can be routinely denied access to denominational schools, or can only do so only if key issues, especially matters to do with sexual health and relationships are not discussed with children and young people.”

Health bosses have claimed that the church’s refusal to teach safe sex leaves teens at risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unwanted pregnancies.

Now the government has proposed a new set of drop-in sexual health centres – targeted specifically at pupils from denominational schools.

But the body representing Catholic schools has denounced the “underhand” plan as “sinister” and in “direct opposition” to the wishes of parents.

The proposals for clinics have come in the government’s new Pregnancy and Parenthood in Young People Strategy – due to be published next month.

As part of the strategy they have consulted with sexual healthcare bosses across the country – some of whom have hit out at Catholic schools directly.

Bosses at NHS Lothian have said that they see a particular need for such schemes as a result of Catholic schools in their catchment.

They have told the government that sex and relationship education in Catholic schools is “too frequently not equipping young people with the information and access to services that they need.”

NHS Lanarkshire’s sexual health team have also called for council education departments to take a “much more proactive role” in referrals to sexual health clinics.

And – they say – this should include the deployment of free condom schemes, in spite of the church taking a stance against their use.

Their submission reads: “There are ‘significant discrepancies’ in the advice pupils receive in different schools.

“This continues to put the health outcomes of children and young people at risk and puts local authorities in the position of providing unequal goods or services on the basis of religion.”

It goes on to level a criticism specifically at Catholic schools.

“Objective, non-judgemental information and support is very difficult to achieve when we still have state-sponsored segregated education on the basis of religious belief.”

It also calls for an “enforcement” of equal access to sex health information regardless of where pupils are enrolled.

Colin Anderson, senior health promotion officer at NHS Lanarkshire, said that pupils are specifically “at risk” of STIs, unplanned pregnancies and domestic violence if sex and relationship education in schools was inadequate.

Gary McLelland, head of communications and public affairs for the Humanist Society Scotland, said:
“Sex and relationships education is essential to promoting health and well-being. It is a child’s right to access high quality evidence-based sex and relationships education.

“Most parents will be surprised to learn that publicly-funded Catholic schools want to block access to information about reproductive health for children and young people. It’s astonishing that the Scottish Catholic Education Service continue to fight against these important public health reforms.

“We already know, from information obtained by the Scottish Parliament, that health chiefs in Greater Glasgow are alarmed about the blocking tactics used by some Catholic schools.

“With over two-thirds of young people in Scotland claiming no religion, it’s astonishing that the Scottish Catholic Education Service thinks it has any place blocking health services for young people in Scotland.

“In the coming weeks, ahead of the 2016 Holyrood elections, Humanist Society Scotland will be outlining our vision for reform of the education system in Scotland.”

Adapted from Deadline News. Image Courtesy: Dave Wilson, Creative Commons.