Church welcomes Scottish Government backing for Religious Observance in schools

The Church of Scotland has welcomed the decision of the Scottish Government to show its support for Religious Observance in schools, also known as Time for Reflection.

The National Secular Society has lodged a petition in the Scottish parliament calling for the norm to be that children do not take part in these events usually assemblies, which offer an insight into a range of faiths and may have no religious content at all. The Secular Society is calling for parents to have to opt in to these events rather than opt out.

In a response to the petition, the Scottish Government’s Curriculum Unit says: “The Scottish Government believes that the current legislation and guidance around Religious Observance is relevant and up to date and is not persuaded based on the evidence given that a move to an opt-in system would be helpful to young learners.”

It adds: “Scottish Ministers are clear about the value that RO can have for young people in schools. It can offer opportunities for young people to reflect meaningfully on different points of view and values, including their own.

*“It creates chances to think about the nature and possible meaning of life and humans’ place in the world. It can promote critical thinking, supporting the development of awareness that not all people think the same or share the same ideas and experiences about life.”

The Scottish Government also highlights the current requirement for families to have clear information from schools about the right to withdraw their children and an explanation of what alternative arrangements will be put in place.

Rev Sandy Fraser Convener of the Education Committee said there are misconceptions about the modern form of religious observance. “Chaplains are only ever there if the school invites them in. They are not trying to convert children. They are essentially raising awareness of spirituality, of otherness, a sense of something other than materialism.”

Mr Fraser said: “I cannot emphasise enough that religious observance or time for reflection in 2013 is a wide-ranging and inclusive experience led by professionals who understand the diversity of 21st century Scotland and see that diversity as strength.

He continued: “We totally support the Scottish Government when they say parents’ views should be considered when schools make plans for RO/TR, and that there should be clear information for them about the right they will still have to withdraw their children from these lessons, and what will happen to those pupils that are withdrawn from these sessions is meaningful and with purpose.

*“Along with them we fully support an approach which takes into account the diversity of a school community with regard to pupils and staff from a wide range of traditions, including those with no religion. To that end we would reiterate our call for RO to be renamed ‘Time for Reflection’.

“The Church also agrees with the Scottish Government’s advice to schools which says: ‘It is of central importance that all pupils and staff can participate with integrity in forms of RO without compromise to their personal faith.

“We believe that RO as defined by the Scottish Government’s 2005 guidelines and 2011 advice letter, provides a fundamental part of the cross curricular, whole school curriculum in the same way that Personal and Social Development (PSD) is regarded.”

The Scottish Government response also includes advice and reassurance for parents saying they have the right to question what arrangements are in place for those wishing not to take part in RO/TR “Schools should be prepared and willing to engage with parents who wish to have more information about what is planned or indeed wish to discuss any concerns and possible courses of action.

“The Scottish Government would fully expect schools to engage with parents in a spirit of openness and collaboration in all areas, perhaps especially around religious observance, where it is clear that sensitivity and good relationships are required.”