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Kirk repents the Forsyth gospel

THE ghost of Michael Forsyth will return next month to haunt the General Assembly - and cause more trouble in the pews, David Henderson writes.

These days, Lord Forsyth resides on the opposition benches in the Lords, while not working as a city banker, but his ministerial intervention in March 1991 to stiffen the Christian dimension to religious education and observance has led to 12 years of disobedience, particularly in secondaries.

Two out of three secondaries fail to meet the requirement of services of "a broadly Christian character" at least once a month, as HMI pointed out two years ago in its review of religious and moral education. Inspectors said it was because schools had difficulties with observance in a predominantly secular and multi-faith society.

Next month on the Mound, the Church of Scotland will finally decide whether to back Scottish Executive plans to introduce more liberal guidelines or support the continuation of the Christian emphasis in observance.

Despite the reluctance of traditionalists, the Rev Jack Laidlaw, the assembly's retiring education convener, urges commissioners to deal with the issue in a "clear, open and honest manner".

Mr Laidlaw points out that the former education minister's circular to halt the decline of observance is one of the few ever to be challenged by local authorities and openly flouted by schools.

He also notes that the remit of the consultation does not allow a basic question: "Is this kind of legal provision, now some 130 years old, relevant in this day and age?"

The Executive's review group suggests schools focus more on spiritual development and does not mention Christianity or any other faith. Mr Laidlaw believes schools will need time to consider the switch to the new dimension.

"Spiritual development should include those aspects of personal development that help us understand who we are and what life is about. It should seek to develop in pupils the capacity to reflect on and come to views about questions of life and death and God," he says.

Leader, page 24

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