Reforms inspire the right spirit

4th March 2005 at 00:00
Revised guidance to schools on religious observance has been broadly welcomed by Scotland's main faith groups as an acknowledgement of the country's Christian tradition - although one Christian charity has warned that the document's vague wording might be interpreted as requiring an inter-faith approach.

David Alexander, convener of the Church of Scotland's education committee, welcomed the decision to recommend weekly assemblies in primary schools, as opposed to the monthly assemblies suggested in the report on religious education.

Michael McGrath, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, said:

"We are satisfied with it inasmuch as it allows for appropriate religious observance within a Catholic school and it also signifies the importance of religious observance in all schools."

The Rev Ewan Aitken, education spokesman for the local authorities, commented: "While the guidelines are real progress, I think an opportunity has been missed to move from religious observance being simply about models of organised religions to a wider definition of spiritual reflection."

However, Councillor Aitken welcomed suggestions in the guidance that non-denominational schools should provide dedicated spaces for observance.

The charity Christian Action Research and Education (Care) said that the Scottish Executive's definition of religious observance was too vague and warned that its multi-faith approach and implication that communal celebration is an alternative to Christian worship might lead many parents to withdraw their children.

Alastair Noble, Care's education officer, said: "Our concern was essentially around the redefinition of religious observance because we are not at all clear how schools can operate with that."

The Executive has accepted the definition proposed by the religious observance review group: "community acts which aim to promote the spiritual development of all members of the school community and express and celebrate the shared values of the school community".

Dr Noble described the new guidance as "a non-religious definition of religious observance", adding that this was not a debate about whether we should have religious observance or not, but a debate about the content.

Councillor Aitken countered that critics of the guidance showed "a lack of understanding about what schools are about and a lack of understanding about the nature of faith and belief".

Peter Peacock, Education Minister, said: "The approach to religious observance in the religious observance review group's report is one which I believe can be embraced by all schools. It recognises our long-standing Christian tradition and other cultures, faiths and beliefs."

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