Religious Observance in Schools

Created on: 24 Jan 2018 | Last modified: 04 Jul 2018

Background to this consultation

The Scottish Government Learning Directorate contacted the EIS in November 2016 to intimate its intention to consult us on a revision to its guidance on Religious Observance (RO) in schools.

The guidance in question is from 22 February 2011, and takes the format of a letter to Directors of Education/Headteachers, from the Scottish Government, headed 'Curriculum for Excellence – Provision of Religious Observation in Schools'.

The current consultation arose from a campaign by the Humanist Society Scotland (HSS). In September 2016, HSS served a petition for Judicial Review on Scottish Ministers to challenge certain aspects of the Scottish Government's position on RO.

The petition was since narrowed in scope, with the remaining point relating to a request that the Scottish Government's guidance on RO make clear mention of children's rights in any decisions about withdrawing from RO.

In correspondence with HSS in June this year, the Scottish Government confirmed the current policy and guidance position. This letter restated the position regarding the legal right for parents to withdraw children, and added that:

"Many schools will find it helpful and sensible to include young people in any discussions about opting out, ensuring their wishes are aired. This seems especially relevant as young people become older and take more responsibility for their own learning."

The Scottish Government then agreed to seek to reflect the substance of this additional commentary in a revised version of the RO guidance letter.

It announced that it would hold a consultation on a revision to the 2011 guidance, in particular to make clear mention of the role of children and young people in decisions about their education, specifically in relation to any decisions about withdrawing from RO.

In February 2017, the Education Committee noted that the EIS had received a further letter from the Learning Directorate to ask for our views on revisions to the Scottish Government’s guidance on Religious Observance. That letter noted that:

• this is not a review of the legislative provisions underpinning the provision of Religious Observance in schools

• this does not mark a shift in Scottish Government policy

• the proposed revisions to the guidance serve two purposes, namely:

- To ensure that readers are clear that young people should be involved in decisions about RO in their education

- To bring references and language up-to-date and provide additional clarity where it is thought that this is needed

- Comments on proposed revisions to the guidance letter were sought by 24 February 2017. Our submitted comments are at Annex A of this paper

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