It is bad enough that the Roman Catholic Church is allowed to run its own schools at public expense, with the result that children are divided at an early stage into one of two opposed sects of Christianity. Worse is the law (The Education (Scotland) Act 1980) which continues to impose a statutory duty on local authorities to provide religious observance (RO) in Scottish schools. The relevant section (8) of the Act is curiously worded under the heading ‘Religious instruction’ and notes that it has been the custom in the public schools of Scotland for religious observance to be practised and for instruction in religion to be given to pupils. It goes on to permit local authorities to continue with this custom and declares that it will be unlawful to discontinue the practice. Section 9 of the Act does allow parents to have their children withdrawn from RO, but which child wants to singled out for exclusion? This is not a popular option and is little used. Section 9 also suffers from sexism (only referring to male children) and seems to allow withdrawal from both Religious Education and RO, but not one or the other.
The above law does make one exception to holding RO in schools. It allows a local authority to discontinue the practice but only if a resolution in favour of such discontinuance is passed by the authority and if it then submits a proposal for discontinuance to all the electors in that authority area and the majority voting approve. This poll has to be by ballot.
Edinburgh Secular Society has begun to test this exception by petitioning The City of Edinburgh Council to pass such a resolution and hold the appropriate ballot. However the Council has dragged its feet by passing the problem to its Education, Children and Families Committee, which in turn decided that it needed to consult all head teachers about what takes place in their assemblies. We are still waiting for the result of that consultation.
In February 2011, the Learning Directorate (Curriculum Division) of the Scottish Government issued a note to all Directors of Education and all head teachers clarifying the requirements for RO. It stated its belief that learning and teaching can build on Scotland’s ‘strong Christian traditions without compromising them’ and encouraged non-denominational schools (no mention of Catholic schools) to draw upon the rich resources of this tradition when planning religious observance. It declared that every school ‘should’ (i.e. must) provide opportunities for religious observance at least six times in a school year as part of their normal assemblies. This applies even to primary schools.
When at least half and probably two-thirds of Scots now have no religion and the number admitting to being Christians is in decline, this reactionary nonsense is out-of-date. It is not only offensive to those of no religion but to those of non-Christian religions, some of whom now call for their own schools to be funded by the state. The way to undermine society is to allow all sorts of different religious schools; this tendency has to be stopped and the best way is to abolish sections 8 and 9 of the above Education Act. Only the Scottish Government can do that, which is why I have started an online petition calling on it to end compulsory worship in Scottish schools. You can sign the petition by going to the following website:
I could do with your support, especially if you live in Scotland and/or have children at school here.
There was a similar petition (now closed) which just called for an end to compulsory worship in schools but with no reference to any laws or to any part of the UK. Education law in England is similar to that in Scotland but under different statutes. That attracted over 11,000 signatures and was featured by the National Secular Society (see http://www.secularism.org.uk/news/2014/07/new-petition-calls-for-an-end-to-compulsory-worship-in-schools). It is not clear that the Department of Education is taking any notice and in view of the Prime Minister’s declaration that this is a Christian country, it seems that the petition will be ignored.