Presentation to Parliament: Removing Church nominees from Council Education Committees (Petition PE01623)
Update: the transcript of the meeting is now available at http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=10656 then “New petitions” then “Local Authority Education Committees”
The petition progresses. Yesterday, Spencer Fildes and I (actually, mainly Spencer) gave evidence to Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee. The petition itself is now closed for signature, but submissions from organisations, or from individuals, especially I would suggest parents and teachers, remain welcome at petitions@parliament.Scot. (Suggestions: specify PE01623, and keep it short.)
As I reported yesterday, the Committee heard us with close attention, questioned us for almost half an hour, and resolved to seek further testimony from interested bodies. We could not have wished for more at this stage. There will now be an interval while responses and other submissions are collected, for consideration by the Committee, probably early in the New Year. The Committee will then have to decide whether to close (i.e. kill) the petition, or to forward it to the Education Skills Committee for further consideration. It would be unwise to attempt to predict which of those options it will choose, but they clearly agree that we have raised an important and timely issue.
Thankyou, Convener, and my thanks to the Committee for inviting us.
At present, every Council Education Committee in Scotland is required by law to include three full voting members nominated by the Churches. Voters and their elected representatives have no choice in the matter. This legal requirement dates back to 1929, and in its present form to 1973. It is so broadly worded, that it could well apply to any future education system.
We believe this current system is out of place and does not reflect a constantly evolving, rapidly modernising Scottish democracy. We would not dream of allowing the Churches to impose members on this Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee. But that’s what we’re doing to Scottish councils.The Scottish Secular Society believes it is time for change. Currently, the future of Scottish education is under active discussion. Now would be the perfect time to review the status quo.
One major consideration is the fact that parents who hold no belief now represent the majority among primary school parents. This has now created a democratic deficit across Local Education Authorities.
To address this changing demographic, we respectfully suggest that the simplest change would be to relax the requirement. We would like to see the law allowing, not compelling, the elected members to appoint up to 3 such representatives, and to decide whether or not to give them voting powers, much as they do right now for parent and teacher representatives.
To gauge the views of Scotland’s MSP’s on this matter, we wrote to every one of them to find we have considerable cross-party support. Two MSPs actually thought that the system already was the way we would like it to be, and approved of that. Other MSP comments, in brief:
“there may well be merit in looking afresh at this again”, and “there should be a greater amount of autonomy in choosing the best people whether they be religious leaders or not”, “I am broadly supportive of the concept of members of Education Committees being elected”, “it is up to each local authority to decide who should be on the education committee.”, “the current arrangement must change” and “the status quo is an anachronism”.
Our supporters include
- Professor Dame Anne Glover, who was scientific adviser to the Scottish Government and then to the EU
- Clergy Letter Project, which represents 15,000 ordained clergy worldwide
- The Secretary of Glasgow Unitarian Church.
- Glasgow Theosophical Society,
As our petition statement shows, the present situation is undemocratic, unjust, encroaches on human rights, and is highly problematic in enforcement. In addition, it is unnecessary, infringes local autonomy, and is the opposite of participatory democracy.
It is unnecessary, since denominational schools have their own separate mechanisms of governance. Many Churches are already involved in individual schools, including non-denominational schools. Believers, like everyone else, can and should vote, take part in public debate, and stand for office, however, unlike what we are challenging today – religion in this case should be afforded no privilege over those who may hold no belief.
It infringes on local autonomy because laws handed down by central government (in this case, the 1973 and 1994 Westminster governments) are imposed on local Councils regardless of their wishes.
It is certainly not participatory democracy. The broader community is not involved, and the appointees are answerable only to their own Churches.
Finally, many councils have difficulty filling some positions, and there are some, in our view, with questionable appointments. If the system was meeting a legitimate need, such recruitment problems would unlikely arise.
The Church of Scotland itself admits that the system requires an element of reform, and the simplest, is the one that we suggest.
Scotland’s regions are highly diverse. We believe Local Councils themselves are the best judges of local needs, have a local mandate from their voters, and should be free to use it.
In conclusion, we would respectfully ask you to seek opinions from organisations representing non-believers as well as believers, and from organisations concerned with schooling and with human rights, such as Time for Inclusive Education and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, with a view to forwarding our petition to the Education and Skills Committee.
Posted on November 25, 2016, in Education, Politics, Religion, Scotland, Society and tagged Church appointees, Education Committees, Parliamentary petition, Scottish Secular Society. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.