Union tackles 'secret shame'

16th June 2006 at 01:00
Scotland's largest teachers' union is being urged to tackle sectarianism and discrimination - via the curriculum.

The Educational Institute of Scotland's equality working group, led by Margaret Nicol, chair of the equality committee, also calls on the union to challenge employment practices which can be seen as discriminatory.

It calls on the EIS to develop a policy on shared campus schools, saying it should monitor their development closely, support staff within them and raise any issue relating to a link between the schools and areas of deprivation where there are falling rolls.

The report attempts to shed light on the origins of sectarianism and raise awareness of what has been described as "Scotland's secret shame".

It states: "Education has a central role to play in creating a greater awareness of the complexity of prejudice and discrimination; an understanding of their origins in societal structures and the recognition that anti-discriminatory strategies cannot be challenged by educational efforts alone."

Local authorities, schools and colleges should help to "counter myth and misrepresentation", it adds, using the references to values and ethos in A Curriculum for Excellence.

Schools and EIS branches should ensure that anti-sectarianism is part of their agenda and consider whether their practices contribute to institutional or attitudinal sectarianism. The report includes testimony from academics, voluntary groups, churches and other experts, and asks EIS members to examine their own attitudes.

It finds a clear divide in academic opinion about the nature and extent of sectarian bigotry in Scotland, past and present.

"There would appear to be a view in Europe that sectarianism is part of Scotland's societal norms, born of history and culture, and that its violent manifestations are accepted within Scotland. This is not true for the vast majority of people living in Scotland," it says.

Margaret Nicol adds: "The EIS believes education must promote principles of equality and social justice. Any behaviour, overt or hidden, which presents barriers to this goal must be challenged."

Questions debated by the working group included:

* can the origins and history of sectarianism in Scotland illuminate the present or merely reinforce prejudices?

* does challenging sectarianism interfere with the right of individuals to celebrate and commemorate their past?

* can the learned process of abusive rhetoric, suggested by some as exclusively the preserve of a minority of football hooligans, be challenged effectively?

* does it transfer into discrimination in the workplace and service provision?

* can people not deal with the CatholicProtestant sectarian divide in Scotland on anything other than an emotional level?

* why does the continued existence of publicly-funded Catholic school sector in Scotland prompt such fierce debate?

* is the real, or perceived, oppression of the past still the basis of irreconcilable differences?

Professor Gerry Finn, of Strathclyde University, argues in the report that the continued existence of denominational schools has remained an important symbol of reassurance for Catholics.

Professor Tom Devine, of Aberdeen and Edinburgh universities, suggests that Scotland's sectarian problems arise from the 1916 Easter Rising and inter-war years of economic crisis, rather than the 19th century famine.

The working group also criticises media reporting of football and sectarian links. It cites the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey of 2003 that reports sectarian incidents are often followed by letters to newspapers questioning the teaching of religion in schools and the continued public funding of denominational schools.

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