Response 398213385

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(Prof) Paul Braterman

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Scottish Secular Society

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Page One

1. What are the strengths of the current governance arrangements of Scottish education?

What are the strengths of the current governance arrangements of Scottish education?
[See under 17]

2. What are the barriers within the current governance arrangements to achieving the vision of excellence and equity for all?

What are the barriers within the current governance arrangements to achieving the vision of excellence and equity for all?
The present system that imposes three Church appointees on Local Authority Education Committees is a plain violation of equality, since it creates positions within education governance that are reserved for members of specific denominations. Regarding this, EHRC stated in February 2014 [1] and reiterated in November 2016 [2] that "Section 149 of the Equality Act requires public authorities in Scotland to give due regard to the need to: • eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation • Advance equality of opportunity between different groups • Foster good relations between different groups The 1973 Act (as amended by the 1994 Act) of course predates the public sector equality duties; however, the Commission believes that, as concerns have now been raised, an appropriate course of action for Scottish Ministers may be to assess whether these provisions and the policies and practices which flow from them meet the requirement to give due regard to the three elements of the Equality Duty listed above." As we see it, the present arrangement violates both the letter and the spirit of equality legislation for several reasons. • There are positions of power from which non-believers, and believers not affiliated to the particular churches represented on their own local Education Committee, are excluded. This is an unjust deprivation. • Even within those churches, there is no public accountability for the individual selection, which is made by the denomination’s hierarchy in direct correspondence with the Local Authority. • And, perhaps most seriously, on divisive issues related to religion, the particular interests of the churches have double if not triple representation: believers elected to the Local Authority, and among the general public, can and should make their views known through all the normal channels; there is separate specific provision for consulting the Churches where their interests are involved; and the Churches’ viewpoint is represented by their appointees, over and above these processes. Moreover, the public are free to bring matters to the notice of their own Councillor. If the issue is one where someone thinks that the interests of religion have not been sufficiently taken into account, he or she will also be able to bring it to the attention of the Church appointees. But if the concern is that excessive attention has been paid to religious interests, as may happen on matters ranging from the siting of schools to the content of the curriculum, no such two-pronged approach is possible. Such asymmetry is unjust, creates inequality between faith groups and others, and by implication damages the relations between the various groups. The Society currently has a petition before the Scottish Parliament asking for the removal of the unelected Church appointees, and our arguments are developed at greater length in the Petition statement [3] and further submission [4]. However, it would be most unfortunate if the petitions process and the present consultation were allowed to interfere with each other, and indeed if that were to happen, it would undermine the independent nature of the petitions process, which we regard as one of the strengths of Scotland’s participatory democracy. We further draw attention here to the complete lack of accountability of the Church appointees to anyone except their own specific Church hierarchy. This is worth separate mention, since the consultation document (p. 5) explicitly repeats the OECD’s emphasis on accountability. Finally, we draw attention to the presence on the General Teaching Council of representatives of the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church. Although they fall outside the scope of our petition, our arguments apply to them equally. [1] http://www.parliament.scot/S4_PublicPetitionsCommittee/General%20Documents/PE1498_G_Equality_Human_Rights_Commission_11.02.14.pdf [2] https://www.parliament.scot/S5_PublicPetitionsCommittee/Submissions%202016/PE1623_J_EHRC.pdf [3] https://www.parliament.scot/GettingInvolved/Petitions/petitionPDF/PE01623.pdf [4] https://www.parliament.scot/S5_PublicPetitionsCommittee/Submissions%202016/PE1623_R_Petitioner_Response.pdf

3. Should the key principles below underpin our approach to reform?

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No

4. What changes to governance arrangements are required to support decisions about children’s learning and school life being taken at school level?

What changes to governance arrangements are required to support decisions about children’s learning and school life being taken at school level?
1) In addition to the issue raised above, Scottish Secular Society is deeply dissatisfied with the way decisions about attendance at Religious Observance and Religious, Moral, and Philosophical Studies are currently handled. RMPS should be taught in such a neutral and scholarly manner that the question of opting out would rarely arise, although such provision is no doubt necessary, since some members of faith groups think it wrong to discuss in a sympathetic manner any faith other than their own. Regarding RO, the Scottish government's continued refusal to allow pupils to opt themselves out of Religious Observance makes no sense. More than a third of respondents to a recent survey [5] want to do away with RO altogether, and there is a clear majority in favour either of abolition, or of allowing pupils to opt themselves out. Moreover, we do not understand how RO can possibly accomplish its stated objective of expressing shared values, if pupils are being made to take part when they don't want to. The Scottish Secular Society has long advocated replacing the current opt-out system by opting in. This, we feel, would strengthen RO enormously, by making it responsive to the personal and moral aspirations of its actual participants. It has very recently been reported that the Scottish Government plans a consultation on the rules for opting out of RO. We will be responding to this in due course. 2) At present, factual aspects of human sexuality including teaching about contraception are included in the “Made for Love” module of RMPS in Catholic denominational schools, placing them under the control of the Catholic Education Services, which has its own agenda in such matters. This is unacceptable, and we would suggest making schools answerable to local health authorities in their teaching on this and other topics with direct implications for health. [5] http://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/scotland/take-religion-out-of-the-classroom-9j6x06mzw

6. How can children, parents, communities, employers, colleges, universities and others play a stronger role in school life? What actions should be taken to support this?

How can children, parents, communities, employers, colleges, universities and others play a stronger role in school life? What actions should be taken to support this?
Scottish Secular Society argues that if Districts (or whatever structure may replace them) were not compelled to include representatives of religion, that would create more space to co-opt onto Education Committees representatives of the kind listed in this question. [Personal opinion from Prof Paul Braterman: it will also be good if people outside the school community were to know of ways of making material available to teachers; see e.g. Q13] Scottish Secular Society would wish to see the involvement of local health boards in the teaching of health-related topics, including contraception. We think it wrong that factual information on such matters should be under religious control.

8. How can effective collaboration amongst teachers and practitioners be further encouraged and incentivised?

How can effective collaboration amongst teachers and practitioners be further encouraged and incentivised?
[See personal comments on qq 6, 13]

13. How should governance support teacher education and professional learning in order to build the professional capacity we need?

How should governance support teacher education and professional learning in order to build the professional capacity we need?
There is a failure to connect science education with education in areas such as RMPS that involve the broader history and critical discussion of major scientific ideas. For instance, RMPS teachers are unlikely to have met clear explanations of the Big Bang concept, and why it is now generally accepted. More seriously, they are unlikely to have been made aware of the range of overwhelming arguments supporting our current understanding of evolution and common descent. This, combined with the praiseworthy goal of using RMPS to teach how to think, rather than what to think, has led RMPS textbooks I have examined to include inaccurate descriptions of the science, and to promote the view that there still is live scientific debate about common descent. Professional maintenance for teachers should include provision for education on these topics, and similar considerations will no doubt apply to many other areas, since interdisciplinary areas are where knowledge grows fastest. [Personal note from Prof Paul Braterman: I would be happy to help generate materials for teachers on the specific topics abovementioned.] Scottish Secular Society welcomes current trends towards inclusive sex education, including the acknowledgement of a range of orientations, with implications for teaching. We would welcome provision of resources to educate teachers in these aspects.

16. How could the accountability arrangements for education be improved?

How could the accountability arrangements for education be improved?
1) We have already mentioned the Church appointees on Education Committees and on the General Teaching Council, who are accountable only to their own hierarchies. Regarding the Education Committees, the Society’s view is that Church representatives, like representatives of other interested parties, should only be on these Committees if so invited by the elected members. As already suggested (see Q4 above), we believe that it would enormously increase accountability as well as quality in the provision of Religious Observance if current opt-out arrangements were to be replaced by opt-in. This would force those with an interest in the provision of RO to bring it into line with what the pupils who are to benefit from it see as their actual personal needs. It may be relevant here draw attention to recent events at North Berwick High [6], where it required a petition signed by one third of the entire student body to enlarge RO beyond Christianity, despite the clear language of governmental guidance and the school’s own handbook. 2) There is also an extremely serious problem of governance regarding chaplaincy services. It is common for schools to have a chaplaincy team, but it is not in general clear whether this team shares collective responsibility, and how much responsibility the headteacher should assume for their actions. These shortcomings were dramatically illustrated by the Kirktonholme scandal [7] of 2013, when pupils were sent home with creationist textbooks stating that fossil beds containing dinosaur bones were the result of Noah’s flood, and that evolution is a scientifically refuted lie, which only remains popular out of rebelliousness against God. It transpired that an extreme US-based fundamentalist sect, to which the chaplain distributing the books belonged, had been allowed to input directly into the school’s RMPS syllabus as well as RO, and to raise funds. In the wake of this debacle, South Lanarkshire issued admirable guidelines [8] defining the responsibilities of chaplains, please setting out a requirement for collective responsibility, and for the accountability of the headteacher for the activities of chaplains, as for teaching staff. We think that guidelines of this kind should be issued nationally. 6] http://scottishchristian.com/north-berwick-high-school-pupils-unhappy-at-christian-assemblies/ ; http://www.eastlothiancourier.com/news/roundup/articles/2015/06/18/536763-north-berwick-high-school-pupils-unhappy-at-christian-assemblies/ 7] http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/13122653.School_heads_removed_in_row_over_radical_Christian_helper/ 8] http://ecas.southlanarkshire.gov.uk/submissiondocuments.asp?submissionid=35854 3) There is also a need for unambiguous national guidelines regarding the duty of schools to inform parents of their opt-out rights, and to include this information prominently in the school Handbook and registration materials. We are aware of many cases where at present this does not happen.

17. Is there anything else you would like to add regarding the governance of education in Scotland?

Is there anything else you would like to add regarding the governance of education in Scotland?
Since this submission is from the Scottish Secular Society, the responses have addressed only those issues related to the Society’s mission, namely the maintenance of freedom of religion, and freedom from religion, with equal treatment for all citizens, and the implications for this mission in education. Many aspects of the present system have been shaped by historical religious assumptions of diminishing relevance, and no longer meet the needs of a modern society, with its unprecedented variations in religious belief and non-belief. It is imperative that this general point is borne in mind, since it would be lamentable if such defects in the present system were to be transmitted to any modified system that replaces it. For this and other reasons, we are concerned that Government policy repeatedly refers to the “spiritual development” of pupils. This is loaded language, making metaphysical assumptions that are no longer generally shared about the nature of human beings. The debate should instead be focused on the shared concepts of personal, moral, and emotional development, self-actualisation, and human flourishing. For many, this will take place within the framework of religious belief, but for many others, it will not. With that in mind, we draw attention again to the privileged position of religion, and especially of the major religious organisations, within the Scottish educational system. This amounts to repeated multiple representation within the system for religious points of view, at the expense of others. Believers have the same civic rights and duties as other citizens. In addition, religious bodies have legally entrenched privileges within denominational schools, and this situation will continue as long as a large section of the electorate so wishes. They also have a legal right to be consulted on matters that affect their interests, and have physical involvement with schools through chaplaincy and RO. But in addition to this multiply duplicated representation, Church representatives are imposed on Council Education Committees, as a result of 1973 legislation which defines “Local Education Authorities” in such broad terms that it seems bound to apply to whatever system replaces the present one, unless positive action is taken to prevent this from happening. We would also welcome clear statements regarding the appointment procedures for teachers at all levels. This, more perhaps than any other, is an area where Church representatives on Education Committees should not be involved. In non-denominational schools, they give unwarranted special representation to one particular special interest, while in denominational schools their presence is unnecessary because of the schools’ own governance processes.