Segregated schooling and sectarianism in Scotland

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Commenting on Conservative justice spokesperson John Lamont's concern that the west of Scotland school system contributes to the "conditioning of sectarian attitudes", and the responses to his remarks, Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society thinktank Ekklesia, said:

"This war of words indicates that we need a more rational debate about the short- and long-term impact of religious selection and segregation in schooling in Scotland, as in other parts of Britain and Ireland.

"There is well-researched evidence in the UK, including the Cantle Report, which suggests that separating or selecting pupils on the basis of religion can contribute towards lack of cohesion, lack of real contact between children from different communities, and in some cases the kind of lack of empathy or antipathy that contributes towards direct conflict.

"This is a legitimate concern to raise in Scotland too, and a debate about the kind of state-supported schooling needed to break down sectarian attitudes should not be turned into a 'taboo' by accusatory denunciations directed towards anyone who suggests there is an issue here.

"The Conservative justice spokesperson may or may not have used what others would regard as judicious language in parts of his speech - but his preparedness to name a difficult issue openly is surely courageous and necessary.

"If Mr Lamont's critics believe that there is insufficient verified evidence on the issue of the relation between religiously segregated schooling and lack of community cohesion or sectarian attitudes, then that suggests the need for more research, not a silencing of the concern."

Ekklesia is a founding member of the Accord Coalition, which works for the reform of faith schools to ensure full equality and inclusion, and for an end to religious selection and discrimination in all publicly funded schools.