Humanist Society Scotland and Church of Scotland working together for inclusive schools

27 January, 2014

Update, 28 January: Yesterday evening the Church of Scotland decided to remove the joint statement from its website and issue a new statement claiming that it did not support the end of Religious Observance. The Humanist Society Scotland made another statement refuting this, and standing by the original statement. Discussions are ongoing and further updates will be provided in due course.

Original article: The Humanist Society Scotland and the Church of Scotland have jointly called for the replacement of Religious Observance (the Scottish equivalent of what is known as Collective Worship in England and Wales) in schools with an inclusive ‘Time for Reflection’. In their first ever joint statement, the two organisations announced a joint submission to the Scottish Government in support of the change, as ‘a way of making these events more inclusive and clearly not gatherings where one faith or belief system is promoted over another.’ The British Humanist Association (BHA) has called for progress in England and Wales to match that now visible in Scotland.

Currently in Scotland, every school ‘should provide opportunities for religious observance at least six times in a school year’, although can do so much more frequently: ‘many primary schools value weekly religious observance’. Schools are encouraged to draw upon ‘rich resources of [the Christian] tradition when planning religious observance.’

By comparison, in England and Wales, since 1944 schools have been legally obliged to hold a daily act of collective worship, which if it is a ‘faith’ school should be in line with the faith of the school; or if it is not, should ‘be wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character.’

In 1998, proposals for legal reform similar to those being suggested in Scotland were supported by:

  • At least two-thirds of local Standing Advisory Councils for Religious Education
  • The major teaching unions: the National Union of Teachers (NUT); the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL); the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT); the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT); the Secondary Heads Association; the Society of Education Officers; the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations
  • Most national RE bodies: the Professional Council for Religious Education; the Conference of University Lecturers in Religious Education (CULRE); the Association of Religious Education Inspectors, Advisers and Consultants (AREIAC); two-thirds of responding members of the Religious Education Council for England and Wales
  • Religious bodies: the Board of Deputies of British Jews; the Christian Education Movement; the Buddhist Society; the Sikh Education Council; the National Council of Hindu Temples; all responding members of the Inter Faith Network for the UK
  • Local Government Association
  • British Humanist Association

Support for reform has also since been given by many other organisations such as the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís, the Unitarian Church, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, and the Hindu Academy. However, no legal progress has been made since.

BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal commented, ‘We welcome the fact that the Humanist Society Scotland and Church of Scotland have been able to collaborate together in supporting such an important reform. It is vital that school assemblies are inclusive to all young people, regardless of their religion or belief, and we hope this unprecedented joint work will enable this to become the case in Scotland.

‘Urgent legislative reform is also needed in England and Wales, where the law is even more restrictive than it is in Scotland. We get more complaints about Collective Worship in schools than many other issues, with pupils often being left distressed and parents feeling discriminated against. We live in an increasingly diverse society, and it is time for our law to reflect that.’


For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7324 3072.

Read the Humanist Society Scotland and Church of Scotland’s joint statement:

Read the Humanist Society Scotland’s own separate statement:

Read more about the law on Collective Worship in England and Wales:

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.