Tag Archives: Religious Education

Tony Blair appeals for the world’s children to be taught respect for all religions. But should they not be taught to respect the more general right of others to free expression and association?

Under the auspices of his Faith Foundation Tony Blair has appealed for the children of the world to be taught in school respect for all religions. This appeal is questionable in many ways. An objective treatment of all religions would reveal their negative features which in many cases attracts valid criticism. For instance, why do so many denominations exclude women from their priesthoods and justify the patriarchal dominance men over women? There is a danger that encouraging respect will lead to an ignoring of the negative features of religions and a lack of objectivity in education on the issue. Indeed in the work of the Tony Blair Foundation there is only one form of one religious denomination that comes in for regular criticism.

Respect for the right of people to hold different beliefs and associate on the basis of them should be a value taught in all schools – but this should not be focused exclusively on faith. By focusing on religious differences is not Tony Blair contributing to an excessive focus upon, and privileging of, this one sphere of human activity? Pleas for tolerance should be much wider than those just based on religion. To be fair there are sections of his latest article that refer to the need to foster understanding across barriers of religion ‘and belief’ but the dominant focus is on religious difference.

Tony Blair outlines his views at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-29553001

Scottish state schools must have prayers! (religious observance). Westminster laws inherited in 1999 by Scottish Parliament still prevail.

ESS Communications Officer, Neil Barber, explains in the Scotsman (14 June) the difference between Religious and Moral Education and religious observance;

RME teacher Isdale Anderson accurately describes the important need for religious education:To remove religious education from schools would be to leave pupils ignorant of the beliefs of millions of the world’s population” (letters 13th June). However, her description of her work as “ teaching religious and moral education (RME) in state non-denominational secondary schools” underscores an ongoing concern.

In addition to RME, so-called “non-denominational” schools are statutorily obliged to have regular Religious Observance (RO) which is often led by evangelising outsiders who might be less concerned than Ms Anderson to “encourage pupils to think for themselves.” RO is quite different from RME and, depending on the ethos of the school and the personal beliefs of the head teacher, may become exactly the “force-feeding” which she rightly condemns.

Let us not blur the distinction between RO and the work done by conscientious RME teachers like Ms Anderson.

The laws that govern religious observance in Scottish schools were determined by the UK Westminster Parliament before devolution and are similar to those that apply in England. They have never been reviewed by the Scottish Parliament in the fifteen years of its existence. Is it not about time that it used the powers that it has?

ESS Press statement on sectarianism in relation Scottish schools

Saturday 14 December 2014 – For immediate release

A recently published report commissioned by the Scottish government  (Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism in Scotland Independent Advice to Scottish Ministers and Report on Activity 9 August 2012 – 15 November 2013) claims that denominational schools have no causal influence on sectarianism.

This seems hard to believe.

The report expresses concern about sectarianism but offers no alternative explanation for its existence.

It is incredible that even as the advisory group endorses educational apartheid according to the religious beliefs of parents, it urges schools both to work on their “co-operation and relationship building” and to be “imaginative” in constructing “anti-sectarian partnerships.”

It flatly contradicts the experience of Northern Ireland which has had to deal with this problem at its most acute. Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson said in November 2011 "We cannot hope to move beyond our present community divisions while our young people are educated separately.”

Edinburgh Secular Society Education Officer and parent Veronica Wikman says:

“Segregation of children is always going to be counter-productive to the aim of creating social cohesion. It is naïve to suggest that segregated schools are not a huge contributing factor to sectarianism.”

ESS Press and Communications Officer Neil Barber adds:

”This suggestion flies in the face of common sense. Is the faith school lobby so powerful that the Government’s advisory group on tackling sectarianism is ignoring the elephant in the room?”

Edinburgh Secular Society member Neil is featured in Herald Scotland

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Sunday Herald: Scrutiny needed in schools–Edinburgh Secular Society

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Opinion piece by Sunday Herald.

RELIGION in non-denominational schools is a sensitive matter. (View online here)

Recent claims that only 20% of parents feel adequately informed about their right to remove children from church services or assemblies have, for example, prompted calls for the rules governing religious observance to be changed. But non-religious parents will not be the only ones to be alarmed by evidence suggesting that some ­evangelical groups are ­providing volunteer helpers. Edinburgh Secular Society says these groups encourage members to offer support to teaching staff, or provide services such as outdoor education centres.

These volunteers may be well-intentioned and it is perhaps understandable that, with tightened budgets, headteachers are grateful for additional support and resources. However, religious education is supposed to be ­regulated according to nationally agreed guidelines, and it is important that teachers and local authorities are aware of what is going on within their premises.

Recent events at Kirktonholme Primary School in East Kilbride should alert us to the need for vigilance. An inquiry is under way there into West Mains Church of Christ’s involvement in school activities, after books denouncing the theory of evolution were handed out to pupils. Given that some evangelical groups hold contentious views on issues such as homosexuality or the validity of science, all parents will want to know what their children are being told. The fact that a West Mains Church of Christ preacher had been helping out at Kirktonholme for eight years before questions were asked raises doubts as to whether the involvement of religious organisations in Scottish schools is being adequately monitored.