New plans to reform religious school assemblies
Prayers and hymns will be replaced with spiritual ìperson-centred discussionsî under new plans to overhaul traditional school assemblies reports the Sunday Times in Scotland.
Non-denominational schools across Scotland could soon be issued with new guidance as part of a radical reform of the way religion is presented to pupils.
Instead of assemblies based on reciting prayers and listening to readings from the Bible, children would be encouraged to discuss the values of historical figures such as Martin Luther King to nurture their ìspiritual natureî.
The ìperson-centredî and ìinclusiveî approach is designed to reflect the views of many teachers and parents who believe prayers and hymns have little meaning in Scotlandís increasingly secular society.
It may also receive backing from Christians who believe that the way the Christian faith is presented in schools needs to change in a post-christendom context.
However, the plan ó which would reflect the style of BBC Radio 4ís Thought for the Day ó has been criticised by evangelical Christian groups, Christians seeking to defend ideas of ìChristendomî and some head teachers, who have claimed it is an attempt to ìwater downî Christian traditions.
The new strategy is recommended in a long-awaited study, which was commissioned by the Scottish executive. The conclusions of the Review Group on Religious Observance ó which comprises senior education officials, inspectors, teaching bodies and church groups ó have been presented to Jack McConnell, the first minister.
McConnell, who commissioned the work in 2001 when he was education minister, made clear last year his sup- port for a more multicultural approach to religion in Scottish schools. He set up the group following a report by Her Majestyís Inspectors of Schools into the standard of RE provision in state schools.
By law, all non-denominational schools are obliged to ensure that pupils take part in religious observance at least once a month. Current guidelines to head teachers say it should be of a ìbroadly Christian natureî.
However, the inspectors found that two-thirds of head teachers were ignoring the statutory requirement and many children were not being taught ìspiritual valuesî.
The Church of Scotland is expected to give its backing to the guidance, arguing that non-denominational schools should promote an ìopen and invitationalî approach to religious teaching.
While the guidelines will not affect denominational schools, there are concerns that Catholic parents who have no alternative but to send their children to local state schools might oppose the move.
However, Michael McGrath, director of the Catholic Education Commission, said: ìSchool is not all about knowledge, there is also the question of spirituality and the ëbig questionsí to consider. Schools need support and training in finding stimulating ways to do that.î
Alex Easton, the president of the Head Teachersí Association of Scotland, said many schools would resist attempts to dilute religious observance entirely.
Easton, who is the head teacher at Falkirk high school, which holds weekly religious-based assemblies, said: ìAny faith is better than none. And I would like some of these experts to come to schools and see how their nebulous ideas can be carried out.î