God bless freedom of information

5th December 2008 at 00:00

Who did the Scottish Government consult in relation to the Curriculum for Excellence draft experiences and outcomes for religious and moral education? Finally, I have answers, courtesy of the Freedom of Information Act. It was rather disappointing that I had to deploy the act, but I was left with no choice.

I had asked at every meeting for the identity of the contributors and writers to be revealed. My requests were either ignored or treated with contempt. The last time I enquired, at the conference which launched the documents on October 3, I was told I had a siege mentality for wanting to know.

Now that I have the information, I understand why there was resistance to my finding out the truth. Scotland is meant to be a multicultural society, isn't it? My country embraces many and diverse traditions which have evolved through centuries of history and social change. Pre-dating the traditional monotheistic faith of Christianity by a long margin were, among others, the ancient ideologies of the Celtic peoples for whom Mother Earth herself provided a living door to the intersection of nature and imagination. Go back further to 3000BC, or thereabouts, and wonder about the magnificent Standing Stones of Callanish on the Isle of Lewis (right). Are they deemed unimportant because they symbolise beliefs from a time before time? Religion in Scotland did not start with the Roman invasion.

Yet, reading the list of individuals and organisations consulted by the Scottish Government would lead you to believe that Scotland was devoid of spirituality before the advent of Christian missionaries. Hearken to the roll call of the great and the good: Action of Churches Together in Scotland, Church of Scotland, Religious Education Movement in Scotland, Scottish Catholic Education Service, Scottish Inter-Faith Council and Scottish Joint Committee on Religious and Moral Education. Some of these may pay lip service to other traditions, but how many Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, Muslims, Humanists and Pagans (and this is not an exhaustive list) were consulted in drawing up documentation on the proposed curriculum for religious and moral education? Answer - none.

More shocks to come. Not a single Scottish secondary was involved in the non-denominational quality assurance group meetings. Yet three primary schools were included in this part of the exercise. On any grounds, this is unbalanced representation. Who made these decisions? I turned to a section headed "residential meetings", a two-day event held at the beginning of last month. Again, consultation is unbalanced - this time because no secondary school north of Montrose was included, thus ruling out a major chunk of the country.

What have we ended up with? A narrow series of experiences and outcomes which will cause more problems than they will cure. The consultation never looked beyond the limited confines of the Christian church. The Learning and Teaching Scotland representative at the Edinburgh launch meeting told us that the discussion had been very challenging. Numerous RE teachers are calling for radical change. Any alteration to the draft documentation will be cosmetic, because doing otherwise will be seen as entering controversial territory.

Sadly, it's more important to humour the powers that be than address the needs of 21st-century school pupils. Thank goodness for the Freedom of Information Act. Now we know the truth, however depressing.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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