Assembly to stay 'broadly Christian'

30th April 2004 at 01:00
Ministers are likely to relax the current guidelines on religious observance and will introduce more flexibility for schools - but its "broadly Christian character" will remain.

There could, however, be more discretion for schools over the form and timing of assemblies, which a research survey has found will command support. Primary schools are currently required to stage religious observance a least once a week and secondaries at least once a month.

It was the breach of these requirements in non-denominational secondary schools that was exposed by HMI in 2001 and led to the setting up of a review group chaired by Anne Wilson, director of education in Dundee.

The group is believed to have recommended a move away from observance to the encouragement of "spiritual development".

The Scottish Executive would not be drawn on this until ministers publish their response, but a spokesman said: "The Lord's Prayer will still be heard in Scotland's schools, and Scotland's other cultures, faiths and beliefs will be recognised within the context of a broadly Christian society."

Other beliefs would, however, be given their place. As one insider put it:

"We would hope that a broadly Christian society would do that, showing tolerance and appreciation of other faiths and cultures."

But Ewan Aitken, Edinburgh's education spokesperson, who is a Church of Scotland minister, said the Executive's approach would be taken as requiring Christian worship "which would not be helpful".

Mr Aitken added: "We have got to think more broadly than religion and reflect on spiritual development in its widest sense."

The Executive's caution in handling the issue is partly due to its bruising experience over the section 2A saga on homosexuality in schools. Peter Peacock, Education Minister, is particularly sensitive as a Highland MSP to any charge of undermining Christian values, and he is likely to be supported by Jack McConnell, the First Minister, given the views of his Lanarkshire constituency.

Ministers are understood to look with favour on the approach used in the Scottish Parliament where each day begins with "a time for reflection", although there is no suggestion this should be a daily occurrence in schools.

Meanwhile a survey carried out for Mrs Wilson's review group found polarised views on religious observance. "For some, what was missing from religious observance was in fact religion - Christianity. For others, the problem resided in the persistent use of the term 'religious'," the report from the Scottish Council for Research in Education noted.

"The very term 'religious observance' was no longer appropriate for describing the range of practice involving those of different faiths - or of none," it added.

The results of the poll, which drew 1,473 responses, suggest that part of the solution may be to allow schools more discretion, the SCRE suggests.

"It appears that the key to success lies in diversity and in moving away from a one size fits all solution."

The survey found support for a much broader approach to "spiritual development" involving other subjects such as art, music, English and environmental studies.

The researchers pointed to "an urgent need" to link observance with religious and moral education and with personal and social education.

Observance could then become a practical part of both programmes and would be one way of encouraging youngsters to practise tolerance.

The researchers held consultations with young people who mostly expressed misgivings about the current position, one consistent theme being that assemblies were indeed merely about observance and participation was not a feature. "There's no chance to take part at all," one said. "We just have to sit silently and listen."

This led the research study to conclude: "Large whole-school activities are not always productive or useful. Smaller groups are more participative and personal."

Religious Observance in Scottish Schools: final report on the consultation.

By Anne Pirrie, Kevin Lowden and Joanne Quinn. SCRE Centre at Glasgow University.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today