Religious Observance is time set aside in a school day for pupils to have what the government guidance describes as:
“community acts which aim to promote the spiritual development of all members of the school community and express and celebrate the shared values of the school community.”
This can take different forms in different schools. In some it could be a very traditional religious service lead by a single faith leader in a place of worship, in others it could be a talk on moral issues in the school assembly hall by a religious organisation. The regularity of Religious Observance is not fixed and it is up to the head teacher how often these sessions are run and who is invited to lead the sessions. In some schools it is held weekly or more often in others it is once a term.
Why can’t children and young people opt out?
Currently children and young people are not allowed to decide whether attending these sessions is what they want to do and if it fits with their own faith or lack of faith. Parents/carers do have the right to withdraw their children but ultimately the child/young person has no right to exercise their own choice.
What is the campaign going to change?
The campaign aims to change the law to allow children and young people the same right to opt-out of religious observance as if currently offered to their parents/carers. This will ensure that their own beliefs, values, and choices are respected.
Why is this a problem?
The supporters of the campaign believe that children and young people have certain rights that should be respected. This includes the right to have the freedom to choose their own religion or belief and have that choice respected. In Scotland the Parliament and Government has committed to ensuring children have rights that are protected by society by referring to an international agreement called the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The UN Committee on the Right of the Child, who are charged with looking at how countries implement the UNCRC, told the Scottish Government in 2016 they should ensure children and young people have the option to opt out of Religious Observance.
Shouldn’t children and young people be encourage to learn about other faiths/beliefs?
Yes, the campaign believes that children and young people should get good balanced education which teaches children about the variety of faiths groups and beliefs in Scotland and around the world. We believe this is important to better facilitate good community relationships between people of different faiths including those who live without any faith. This is currently done through Religious and Moral Education run by teachers in the classroom. Often these classes will visit different places of worship or have visits from different organisations to learn about different viewpoints, including non-faith based views.
Religious Representatives on Education Committees
Surely if we have Catholic (denominational) schools, the Catholic church should be allowed a seat on local education committees?
We believe that everyone who makes decisions about local education services should be accountable through the ballot box. If representatives of faith groups want to make a contribution to local education committees, they should stand for election and seek a mandate from local citizens.
Seats on education committees was a deal made when the Churches handed over control of their schools to the state, shouldn’t that deal be upheld?
This isn’t the case. The legislation requiring unelected religious representatives only dates back to 1973. Meaning this was only introduced 43 years ago!
Why don’t non-religious families send their children to secular schools?
The fact that unelected religious representatives continue to serve on local education committees means that there are simply no secular schools in Scotland. In many areas of Scotland, parents don’t have a choice, and have to send their children to the nearest school.
Why don’t Humanists and atheists set up their own schools?
We are against segregation, and think that inclusive schools offer a unique opportunity.for children to learn about other cultures and beliefs. This helps to break down social barriers, promotes tolerance and acceptance, and will lead us to a fairer and more equal society.
Isn’t this just an attack on Christianity?
Not at all. While the majority of these religious representatives are from Church of Scotland, there are representatives from other faiths. Our concern is that these religious representatives are unelected, and therefore unaccountable. Everyone serving on these education committees should be voted in by their local community.
What about teacher and parent representatives, do you want to end those too?
Parent and teacher representatives are not required by law, they are appointed at the discretion of councillors. We believe that democratically accountable councillors should make the decisions. If they they need additional input from parents, pupils or even religious leaders, they should explain this to their electorate.
Where did this requirement come from?
The requirement for unelected religious representatives on education committees only began in the 1973 local government reorganisation, not in 1872 as many people believe.
Where can I find details of these religious representatives?
Some local authorities publish details of religious representatives on their education committee websites, but many do not. Most local authorities do not publish voting details of religious representatives, so they are completely unaccountable to the people for whom they make decisions.
Are there any other areas where religious representatives are appointed without being elected?
Yes. Unelected religious representatives are also appointed to the General Teaching Council for Scotland (under the Public Services Reform (General Teaching Council for Scotland) Order 2011/215 (Scottish SI), schedule 2 [membership of the General Teaching Council for Scotland], para.3). Religious representatives are also appointed to Parent Councils and Combined Parent Councils (under the Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act 2006 asp 8, section 7 and section 16(13 & 14).
The Enlighten Up campaign is an initiative of Humanist Society Scotland which aims to promote a fair and inclusive education system where pupils and teachers are not discriminated against because of their religion or belief.