Thou shalt call it 'time for reflection'

4th November 2011 at 00:00
Non-denominational schools given the go-ahead to drop the `religious' from religious observance

The Scottish Government has given its blessing to non-denominational schools to fulfil their religious observance requirements under a different name.

It has suggested they use the phrase "time for reflection", which echoes the words used by the Scottish Parliament for the introduction to business in the chamber, led by faith leaders and those of no faith.

Guidance issued earlier this year by the Government, replacing a circular in 2005, reflected discussions by the Scottish Joint Committee on Religious and Moral Education, made up of teaching unions, curricular bodies and faith leaders. It culminated in a position paper on religious observance, published last week.

The Government guidance to headteachers and education directors, following the introduction of Curriculum for Excellence, states: "Scottish Government ministers also recognise that while the Education (Scotland) Act uses the term religious observance, and as a consequence both Scottish Government and its partners (Learning and Teaching Scotland and HMIE, for example) use the same terminology, schools may feel a different name for the events that meet their religious observance requirements will be more appropriate to their context and culture.

"This is to be encouraged but needs careful thought and if possible some external reference point. For example, in a non-denominational school, the use of the title `Time for Reflection' might be appropriate because it is a clear description of the activity."

Ewan Aitken, joint secretary of the committee and secretary of the Church of Scotland's Church and Society Council, told TESS that calling religious observance something else would promote it within schools.

"The problem is the word `religious'," he said. Calling it "religious observance" put schools off by making them think it was related to creed.

Six years ago, when he was education convener of the local authority body Cosla and Peter Peacock was Education Minister in the Labour-LibDem Scottish Executive, they had tried to introduce a similar name-change, but faced resistance from civil servants, he revealed.

Now, however, its time had come and headteachers would overwhelmingly welcome it, he said, although he acknowledged that some colleagues in the Church of Scotland would initially oppose it.

The joint committee's paper endorses the "personal search" or "inner journey" approach for religious observance, now widely used in teaching the subject of religious and moral education.

Graeme Nixon, who teaches religious, moral and philosophical studies in Aberdeen University's School of Education and co-authored the paper, said the terminology used in religious observance had become more of a barrier as Scottish society became more secular.

elizabeth.buie@tess.co.uk.

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