Religious observance in schools

The Western Isles Presbytery of the Free Church this week expressed ‘extreme concern’ at a proposal that chaplains could only work in Western Isles schools at the invitation of the Head Teacher. They felt that the Authority must retain control of policy.

The Presbytery, meeting in Stornoway, was responding to a consultation document concerning the revision of the Western Isles Council’s policy on religious observance in schools. They stated that they welcomed the opportunity to respond and appreciated the authority’s continuing commitment to the fostering of a Christian ethos.

They also welcomed the inclusion in the policy of guidelines on the frequency of acts of religious observances in schools and also that a clear distinction is drawn between school assemblies, which are held for this purpose, and those which are held for other purposes.

Pointing out that there may be a degree of variation in the actual form of religious observance from school to school, they wished the policy to be sufficiently robust to ensure consistency of standards throughout the Coouncil’s schools.

They added: ‘In particular we consider it to be of crucial importance that the primacy of the Christian religion in this country is emphasised.’

The Presbytery is to seek clarification on the statement in the document that ‘Proselytizing is not acceptable within whole school religious observance.’

However the Presbytery state that they are ‘extremely concerned’ in relation to paragraph 7.2 of the document ‘that Chaplains can only work in schools at the invitation of the Head Teacher and remain of the view that the Authority must retain control of policy, although not the actual operation of it.

‘In this connection Head Teachers must be directed to make appropriate arrangements with local ministers in line with Authrotiy policy and there should be no scope to dilute it. This is an area where there is a need for directed consistency, otherwise the level of chaplaincy input will be left to the inclination of individual Head Techers in post at any given time and this would simply be too vulnerable an arrangement.’

The Presbytery have asked the Council to take due cognisance of the issues they have raised in their response when it comes to the formulation of the revised policy on religious observance in Authority schools.