May 2017


This month I thought I would focus on the recent guidelines issued by the Scottish Government around the provision of Religious Observance in schools. This, as you will understand, is always a hotly contested matter. However, the guidance issued in March 2017 while making some amendments states quite clearly that:
“The Education (Scotland) Act 1980 (“the 1980 Act”) continues to provide the statutory basis for local authorities to provide Religious Observance (RO) in Scottish schools.”

Over the years of my ministry, RO has changed beyond all recognition. In February’s Connexions I detailed a new initiative of creating a reflective space in the Academy to allow first year pupils to reflect on a whole range of issues in their own way and at their own pace. The traditional form of Assembly (as many of you will remember, probably not with fondness) with the whole school meeting for a mini act of worship has long since ceased, apart from the three end of terms Assemblies in Church (Christmas, Easter and Summer). Even then I make use of the television screens and try to ensure the services are interactive in some way.

Since RO has changed over the years, it is useful to be aware that the Scottish Government defines Religious Observance as:
“Community acts which aim to promote the spiritual development of all members of the school’s community and express and celebrate the shared values of the school community”.

The new guidance note is five pages long and I would suggest that RO in schools is of interest to you, and that you read the whole document. However, below are some bullet points which I hope summarise most of the issues covered…

  • It repeats that “Time for Reflection” may be a better term than RO.
  • There is an increased emphasis on “whole school activity” which includes parents and representatives of faith and non-faith communities.
  • RO is seen as having an important part to play in the development of the learner’s four capacities: a successful learner, confident individual, responsible citizen and an effective contributor.
  • It is still encouraged to draw on rich resources of our Christian heritage.
  • The Scottish Government values the important and varied contributions that chaplains and other representatives of faith/belief or non-faith groups can make to the life of a school, through involvement in RO as well as sometimes in acts of worship, religious and moral education and a broader pastoral role.
  • There is encouragement to consider non-faith leaders for delivering RO as well as chaplains.
  • There is a change of frequency of RO from 6 times a year to “several times”, in addition to traditional celebrations.
  • There is an increased emphasis on schools explaining to parents the rationale for RO and the arrangements to withdraw their child. However, the Scottish Government considers that RO complements other aspects of a pupil’s learning and is an important contribution to pupils’ development.
  • Although children do not have the right to withdraw themselves, they should be included in discussions about RO provision, in line with the Children & Young People Act 2014.
  • When members of a non-denominational school community wish to have opportunities for organised acts of worship, head teachers should consider these requests positively and make suitable arrangements if possible. Such events may be distinct, although it is likely that they will be complementary to the school’s provision of RO.

There are several other (older) documents that set out the how’s and why’s of RO, all of which can be found on-line. A chaplain is involved in the life of a school at the invitation of the Head teacher – ministers do not have an automatic right of chaplaincy. Fortunately, I have a good working relationship with the three schools (Chapelton, Kirklandpark and the Academy) where I serve as chaplain and am involved in a whole range of activities in addition to RO.

I hope the above has been of interest and helped to give a little insight into RO in schools.

With every good wish
Shaw J Paterson

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