There has been much talk recently by those with a secularist agenda of the role of religious observance (RO) in schools, often falsely alleging that the church is using its contribution in schools to proselytising when its true aim is simply promoting service to others.
The Church of Scotland supported the radical change in the practice of RO recommended in the then Scottish Executive's 2000 Review and the 2005 guidance and 2011 advice notes to schools, in which Scottish ministers stated: "Religious observance has an important part to play in the development of the learner's four capacities: a successful learner, confident individual, responsible citizen and effective contributor.
"It should also provide opportunities for the school community to reflect upon and develop a deeper understanding of the dignity and worth of each individual and their contribution to the school and wider communities.
"Many school communities contain pupils and staff from faiths other than Christianity or with no faith commitment, and this must be taken fully into account in supporting spiritual development."
All religious observance - or Time for Reflection, the title we prefer - should be genuinely inclusive of people of faith and no faith. This will not be easy, but the church believes it can be achieved and to do so will make a significant contribution to creating a genuinely inclusive society that moves beyond tolerance to deep respect, understanding and common living based on real self-understanding about each other's beliefs and values.
The 2011 census shows 56 % of the population identifying as being religious, 23% making no indication, while 37 % had no religion. A majority see religious experience as being significant in understanding our meaning and purpose, emphasising the need for working on what we can do together in exploring and developing spiritual development in its broadest sense. The church believes this properly reflects a multicultural, diverse 21st century Scotland. What is defined now as RO in schools is a pluralist approach to a pluralist society. The church believes that Scotland's very diversity makes RO both possible and necessary. Young people can discover and explore tools for reflection, both individual and collective, providing opportunities to celebrate human dignity and to search for meaning and self-understanding, a place to encounter different beliefs and points of view, which is fundamental in making sense of the pluralist society in which we live. That is the purpose of RO and why it is a necessary, whole-school activity.
We also believe that the right to withdraw should be made very clear, but that if we work together to find common ground to create genuinely inclusive RO, the issue of withdrawal will become a moot point.
The church recognises however, that the very phrase "religious observance" creates difficulties for some people. That is why we would call for a name change to Time for Reflection, which would help make this discussion more about what we can do together and less an argument between opposing views.
The church's commitment to Time for Reflection is expressed in five core principles:
l Head teachers decide who leads Time for Reflection.
l Outside leaders, including chaplains, do so to assist the school in delivering a Time for Reflection agenda defined by the school bound by the need to be genuinely inclusive.
l Time for Reflection should be built on the exploration of sensing as defined by the 2000 review: Sensing mystery, values, meaningfulness, changed qualities of awareness, otherness and challenge.
l Time for Reflection is not and should never be confessional in nature and it is not worship or "state sponsored" prayers.
l The best Time for Reflection is often pupil-led.
The church believes that Time for Reflection, as defined by the 2005 guidelines and 2011 advice letter, provides a fundamental part of the cross-curricular, health and wellbeing, whole school curriculum. To argue that it should be opt-in rather than opt-out would be to diminish the educational experience for young people and lose the contribution it brings to creating a truly inclusive, pluralistic society.
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