Currently all Scottish councils are required to appoint three religious representatives to their education committees. These religious representatives are unelected and unaccountable. Current practise in religious and moral education varies from area to area, and from urban and rural settings. It’s important that all pupils receive equal and comprehensive schooling, regardless of where they live or the religion of their parents.
In order to challenge prejudice and ignorance it is important that children learn about the values and beliefs which inform the world around us. A crucial part of this is high-quality and inclusive Religious and Moral Education which teaches children how to think, not what to think.
Inclusive education offers an opportunity for children from different backgrounds to learn and socialise together, breaking down the barriers that divide us and promoting social cohesion. Senior pupils in Scotland are able to have their say on the future of their community by voting in local and Scottish Parliamentary elections; it is only right that they are allowed to make decisions relating to their own education.
What is the current legislation that requires the appointment of religious representatives?
When local government was re-organised in Scotland by the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, section 124 made provision for each of the new 32 local authorities to appoint advisory education committees. Although the wording of section 124 was subsequently rephrased by the Local Government etc (Scotland) Act 1994 (c 39), section 31, its tenor remained effectively the same. Section 124(4) is concerned with the appointment of representatives of churches and denominational bodies on education committees, whereby one place on each such committee is expressly reserved for a representative of the Church of Scotland as nominated by the General Assembly. Other denominations also enjoy places on these education committees, most notably the Catholic Church, although only the Church of Scotland enjoys a prescribed place on all such committees. This provision remains in force at the present time.
(from Brown, Green & Mair, Religion in Scots Law: The Report of an Audit at The University of Glasgow: Sponsored by Humanist Society Scotland (Edinburgh, HSS, 2016)).
We believe that all those who make decisions about education policy in local authorities should be accountable through the ballot-box. The Church of Scotland has boasted that “Church representatives hold the balance of power on 19 [of 32] council committees across Scotland”.
We believe that only duly elected councillors should be full voting members of local authority education committees. That is not to suggest that there isn’t a place for advisory members, such as teacher or pupil representatives. If councillors wish to seek advice from local citizens, including faith groups, they should be free to do so, it does not require a full membership of the committee.
Details of how local councillors and religious representatives vote are not routinely collected and published on their websites. We believe that local authorities should be required, like The Scottish Parliament, to publish full retails of how councillors and religious representatives vote.
Useful source: Moving Forward: Local Government and the Scottish Parliament – The Report of the Commission on Local Government on the Scottish Parliament, The Scottish Executive, June 1999
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.