Religious Education in Scottish Schools

Scottish schools are failing to make parents aware of their statutory rights concerning religious and moral education and religious observance, according to new research by YouGov for the Humanist Society Scotland, and published on 30 April 2012.

One thousand Scottish parents of children aged 5-16 were interviewed online between 29 March and 4 April 2012. They were predominantly aged 35-54. A six-page report on the survey, together with a spreadsheet of the full data, is available at:

All Scottish schools are required, by the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, to communicate to parents their right to remove a child from any aspect of religious education and observance, if they wish. Schools are also required to offer a suitable alternative activity.

But in this poll only 20% of Scottish parents claimed they had originally learned of their rights through the school. 41% found out through another route, and the remaining 39% were unaware of their rights at all.

Of the 77% of parents who reported that their child participated in religious education and observance at school, 67% stressed the importance of children learning about a variety of religious beliefs as the reason, while just 15% cited their own religiosity for wanting their child to learn about religion at school. 18% wanted their child to stay with their classmates, 13% did not know that they could withdraw their child, and 11% stated that the alternative options were not spelled out by the school. Multiple answers were possible to this question.

Asked about the best approach to teaching religious education and observance at school, 18% of the full sample argued for the complete removal of the subject from schools. 71% supported a pluralistic approach (with 39% favouring equal time being spent on all main religions, and 32% coverage of all main religions but with a focus on the faith held by the majority of pupils). 4% felt that schools should concentrate on one religion.

Prompted about the specific topics which religious education and observance should cover at school, 16% of all parents thought that no religious or spiritual area should be included. 68% elected for Christianity, 48% Islam, 46% Judaism, 45% Hinduism, 43% Buddhism, 40% Sikhism, 39% philosophy, 38% atheism and secularism, and 21% Jainism.

In sum, therefore, fewer than one-fifth of Scottish parents wish to see the abolition of religious education and observance in schools, albeit this number might conceivably increase if there was more universal awareness of the parental right of withdrawal of their child from religious education and observance. 

As things stand, the overwhelming majority of Scottish parents appear to support the continuation of religious education and observance in schools, but on the implicit understanding that the delivery reflects all major world belief systems.


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