The crisis at Kirktenholme Primary in East Kilbride is one aspect of the increasing disputes over religion in schools.
In Kirktenholme the job-sharing headteachers have been suspended from duty following parental complaints over religious literature distributed in the school. The books advocate a creationist approach to the earth’s origins and deny evolutionary science. The publishers, the Apologetics Press, advertise one of these texts, Truth Be Told, by Kyle Butt and Eric Lyons, as a book which “will excite, encourage, and inform students who want to know the truth. In the end, that truth leads the honest student to the fact that this magnificent Universe did not evolve…”
Already, south of the border, Sir Peter Vardy’s Emmanuel Schools Foundation, promote the ‘intelligent design’ theories which underpin the material distributed at Kirktenholme.
In most Scottish secondary schools, with a commitment to a science curriculum which is explicitly evolutionist, such traditionalist religious propaganda is unwelcome. As a former headteacher, I was approached by my science teachers, anxious that no pressures would ever be placed on them even to consider such unscientific approaches in their classes. My assurance was unambiguous. The study of mythology was appropriate in Religious and Moral Education but not in science.
In 2008, Fiona Hyslop, the Cabinet Secretary for Education made a robust stand on the issue when answering a question in Parliament from Patrick Harvie: “Scottish schools and the Scottish Government would challenge creationism if it were taught in our schools. However, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education reports that no schools in Scotland currently conduct education on creationism.” A similar statement on the East Kilbride events has yet to be made by Mike Russell.
All of this is occurring while the City of Edinburgh Council is considering a petition, urging a local referendum to end religious observance in city schools.
There has also been a recurring debate over the place of religious education in Scottish schools. The days of RE as a series of essentially Christian homilies have, thankfully, long passed. Contemporary Religious and Moral Education examines religions and moral standpoints rather than preaches them.
Yet it remains intriguing that ‘moral’ and ‘religious’ are seen as axiomatically connected. The same intentions might well be served by a subject known as Moral and Ethical Education in which it would be explicit that among many moral standpoints there are those which are religious but that moral and ethical issues can be rigorously examined without reference to religion. Education Scotland (and the Government) however remains caught within a paradigm which cannot envisage the ‘moral’ without the ‘religious’ and which insists on certain prescribed time for RE on every school student’s timetable.
There are of course several quite different strands to these debates. There are general issues over the place of religious observance and the place of specific religious perspectives in the science curriculum. The events in East Kilbride on the other hand may centre much more on religious enthusiasts seeking to proselytise and school management which was either sympathetic to that perspective or simply pleased to have eager volunteers working in school and willing to overlook their missionary activity. There is also the great dilemma which almost no Scottish politician is willing to address, the state funding of denominational schools.
Although the denomination involved in the events in Kirktenholme originates in the USA, the answer to the problems might also lie across the Atlantic. Is it too much to hope that, post-referendum at least, Scottish politicians might emulate the Founding Fathers, seek to separate church and state and make religion a private matter and one kept out of schools?
The above article was first published in Holyrood Magazine on 25 September 2013: http://www.holyrood.com/2013/09/a-matter-of-faith/