Scottish Conference to debate faith schools

The agenda for Scottish Conference in Dunfermline on 8th September has been published.

The party leadership will want the headlines to be about the motion on education which aims to improve teachers’ pay and working conditions and reward those who take on the most challenging jobs or go to the furthest flung areas of Scotland.

It may well be overshadowed by the debate on faith schools. Or rather a motion which calls for “a single, secular model of state-funded education.” We can expect some amendments for that one, which is the most controversial motion on the agenda. I hope that we can have as good a quality of debate as we had in York last year on the English motion.

Two motions ask for support for little understood and debilitating conditions, ADHD and ME.

Another motion calls for an overhaul of the way we finance public infrastructure projects but doesn’t really suggest a sustainable alternative.

There will be Willie Rennie’s keynote speech too.

It’s quite unusual for Scottish Conference to take place before Federal Conference. A by-election in the nearby ward of Inverkeithing and Dalgety Bay will take place two days before. Let’s hope we have something to celebrate. Lib Dem Callum Hawthorne has been running an energetic campaign for some time now.

If you haven’t already registered for Scottish Conference, you can do so here.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Lorenzo Cherin 9th Aug '18 - 2:21pm

    I agree with David, these ideas put to national or regional conferences are about things which should be policy for local authority areas, the imposition of one size fits all is not Liberalism it is national statism, and I would say socialism, but for the analogy not being pleasant.

    Conscience votes for matters relating to faith, life, abortion, etc, by parliamentary or council members, not party members, are the Liberal thing we should back, the party is going the way of the Democrats, “progressive” whatever that is, not Liberal.

  • But segregating young people by faith and providing teaching that is partial by dint of that faith certainly isn’t liberal?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 9th Aug '18 - 11:23pm


    A shame when someone not of your political orientation on certain things says they agree you do not say, thanks but prefer to nitpick and criticise.

    I rarely use your referred to word as an insult, unless it is good for one, here I meant that national statism, the insult I applied to this terrible tendency to impose things, agreeing with you, was nicer than saying national socialist, but unfortunately too many who should advocate local do so with attitudes more like national, and too many who think they are liberal, are more like they are socialist.The Democrats in the US are doing it, in Scotland our party have done so on abortion , if this continues on faith schools people who now support us shall vote for the Tories and under their Scottish chief, I think they are correct to, if such absurd policies are party dictat there from this party.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 10th Aug '18 - 8:38am

    David Raw, I’m sure we are all very pleased to see Lorenzo back 🙂
    Sometimes unfortunately its easy to forget that a comment can be misread, because it is not possible to see the smile with which it was written 🙂
    The carol “Hail Smiling Morn” is lovely. I don’t think I’ve actually come across it before, despite having lived in Yorkshire for many years.

  • Yvonne Finlayson 10th Aug '18 - 5:16pm

    I wrote the faith motion.

    Faith schools are largely 100% funded by a local authority in Scotland. In Catholic schools for example non catholics cannot take up a promoted post. They are selective in admissions. Is this a form of discrimination?

    We have local authorities that are in significant financial difficulty. Rather than build up a storey we often have two schools facing one another, a faith school and a non-demominational, or we have shared campuses (dining hall and gym shared when the other school isn’t using them, but with separate entrances and the church has additional requests, for example that toilets are not shared).

    Some religions are on the increase whilst others are decreasing – should we offer schools for every religion, or should religion largely be taught at home or at a place of worship?

    Perhaps the decision as to whether we have faith schools should be undertaken at local authority level. If we look at what happens there, local authorities can have 3 (unelected) religious leaders sitting on local authority education boards. Is it time we reflected on this, and if it’s the right model moving forward? (We now have a majority of Scots saying they don’t follow a religion).

    The motion also calls for a religion hour before the formal school day commences. Pupils should be able to bring their whole self to school and for some religion plays a huge part. Faith rooms are being introduced by some employers, our schools could do the same. Then when the formal school day starts pupils are taught together.

    Should any faiths want to initiate their own faith based school they can do so, it just wouldn’t be funded by the state.

    (The original post cites the PFI motion. I also wrote that and it does propose a solution, traditional borrowing where that proves to be more cost effective after the repayment of any penalties. This also carries less risk if the FM company fails.)

  • Denis Mollison 10th Aug '18 - 10:00pm

    “Do we as a party believe in the right of parents to send their children to a school of their faith community or not?”

    A first answer is “well, yes, they can, but why should the state pay for this?”, noting that even the heavily religious USA has a constitution that keeps religion out of state-funded schools.

    A second answer is to question parental rights in this. One of my favourite sayings comes from the pioneering educationalist, AS Neill: “Be on the side of the child”. Religion largely persists because each generation of parents passes on its views to its children – a phenomenon which doesn’t say much for the objective truth of any of these religions.

    It’s time we stood up for the integrationist, open-minded, liberal ideal of “a single, secular model of state-funded education”. Schools should be respectful of the faiths children bring to school, but liberal education should introduce them to the wide range of beliefs that exist and their history.

    And as well as being fair to the children we should be fair to teachers: insisting on particular religious affiliation for posts in state-funded schools is discrimination, nothing less.

  • Yvonne Finlayson 10th Aug '18 - 10:12pm

    What happens to a pupil who is Catholic and can’t access a faith school as there isn’t one where they live? Where do those pupils receive their religious instruction?

    Many religions are in decline. How do we provide equity with the ones that are growing? Build more faith schools? Our schools can’t cope well with changing demographics, how do they cope with changing demographics and changes in religious beliefs?

    I 100% agree with you that parents should be able to send their child to a faith school. The churches should fund those schools.

    A schools primary objective is to educate. Additional religious instruction could be provided in the religion hour. This would be better provision than some pupils of faith receive now.

    You refer to an Act from 1850. Women didn’t have the vote. We were hanging people. Times have moved on. In relation to this thread, education is now freely available to all.

    If we look across the globe we see a change. Italy, a nation steeped in Catholicism, has removed the role of the church in schools.

  • Helen Tedcastle 11th Aug '18 - 12:15am

    Denis Mollison
    ” Schools should be respectful of the faiths children bring to school, but liberal education should introduce them to the wide range of beliefs that exist and their history.”

    So you acknowledge that children are brought up by parents who pass on their beliefs, values and membership of a community to them. It’s just that you don’t appear to like the choices of Catholic parents to apply for their children to attend a Catholic school in their area, run by their own community; or the choices of non-Catholic parents to choose a school which practises common values from a faith perspective, which they want their children to experience.

    Catholic schools already take in people of all faiths and none and already do teach other religions than the Catholic faith. They also turn out good citizens some of whom join this party but wonder on a daily basis whether this party really want them as members.

    I’m just left wondering what is ‘liberal’ about this policy motion? It seems to be the very antithesis of a pluralistic approach to education provision. Rather it represents a stealthy pressure to conformity, something this party is supposed to fight against relentlessly.

  • Helen Tedcastle 11th Aug '18 - 12:35am

    Yvonne Finlayson

    “Where do those pupils receive their religious instruction?”

    Religious Education is not the same as instruction. RE is taught in state faith schools. Pupils do not simply learn a set of instructions. They acquire knowledge, understanding and skills of evaluation and analysis. These skills equip them to sit the national higher exams and to go onto further and higher education.

    RE is one of the humanities alongside History and Geography. As such all pupils would benefit from learning about religion and reflecting upon the complex beliefs, practices and issues that arise from studying the subject. This is the same in faith schools as it is in community schools, although Catholic schools tend to better resource and staff the RE department than other schools tend to.

    The fact is that religion is growing worldwide even if religious identity is shifting across western Europe. Interest in religion and what is termed ‘spirituality’ is just as strong among young people as it ever was, even if traditional affiliations are more fluid.

    It strikes me that religious fluidity in the West is not a reason to ban existing faith communities from running schools. Preventing freedom of religious expression and to provide a public service ie: ending the settlement between formerly persecuted religious minorities and the state, is a regressive and rather hostile move.

    I’m not sure Liberal Democrats want to be the first liberal party to campaign actively for conformity and an end to pluralism?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 11th Aug '18 - 1:59am

    If it were not for Helen Tedcastle, this thread would rely on the sense of very few, so thanks to an excellent regular here we need. I value the comments from her and the equally excellent Catherine, but despair at Denis and Yvonne.

    If this goes through I would leave this party were I in Scotland and support the terrific Ruth Davidson, a liberal and a democrat.

    This country is not America or Italy, my wife was born in America, my father in Italy. The former has religion and state separated in the founding document, therefore no tradition of religious state education. The latter has a real love hate relationship with the once very draconian powerful Church, and a desire to liberalise there means to remove that power.

    This country has a tradition of liberal, progressive, mainstream religions involved in education, in some of the best schools, free for pupils, most of the money from the state. End it and you are privatising, or closing those schools, in any view, a way of ensuring all parents do as I would, vote for Ruth and traditions much valued.

    If Willie Rennie likes this then he must want the party on a course to oblivion.

  • LorenzoCherin 11th Aug '18 - 2:03am

    P.S. Ruth already speaks for the really compassionate and common sense view on crime in her country, she impresses me, Brexit not even a consideration, compared to these personal and political topics.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 11th Aug '18 - 7:11am

    Yvonne, You speak of having a “religion hour” before the school day begins. But the point of a faith school is not just that it teaches a particular faith in RE and assembly.
    A faith school will usually claim that faith influences its whole ethos and atmosphere. Parents often choose a faith school not so much because they wish their children to be instructed in a particular faith, but because they believe a faith school will have a caring ethos.
    In practice, some faith schools are much more successful than others in putting their faith into practice. Quaker schools seem to be especially successful at putting into practice Quaker values of tolerance and kindness, but there are schools of all denominations where faith is shown in action, in a way that benefits all students, including those of other faiths or none. It is true that there are some faith schools which seem indistinguishable from other schools apart from the content of RE and assembly, but these schools are failing to live up to the ideal of a faith school.

  • Denis Mollison 11th Aug '18 - 7:35am

    “So you acknowledge that children are brought up by parents who pass on their beliefs, values and membership of a community to them.”
    I would have hoped it is clear from my next para that I think that education should help children think for themselves, and as they grow up choose their own religion or none. And I do value “membership of a community”, but not if it means isolation from or antipathy to other communities.

    You seem to think I’m anti-Catholic, but no, I’m opposed to state-funded faith schools, full stop. The proliferation of Catholic schools in Scotland came about (I hope I have my history right) because C19 state schools were state-funded Protestant faith schools; in that context it was quite understandable, but the context has changed.

  • Yvonne Finlayson 11th Aug '18 - 9:07am

    Helen, you talk about fluidity of religion, so how do we adjust our school provision to cope with this? Do we have schools for all faiths and how do we fund them?

    What is the rationale behind a non-Catholic geography teacher not being allowed to take up a promoted post in a state funded Catholic school? We now have Scottish Government funding to try to encourage Catholic teachers to teach in Catholic schools, with many now teaching in non-denominational. It’s a sticking plaster.

    Why is it that a child may not be able to attend the state funded school next door if they do not have a faith and the school has a faith based admissions policy? The child could be bussed to another. Is this sensible or inclusive? (Whilst some schools accept pupils who do not have a faith, some do not, as evidenced by their admissions policies).

    Why would a school in a joint campus ask for separate toilets? There may be good reason, I’m perplexed at this one.

    I would be interested to hear your perspective on all of these points.

    Catherine, many schools have a caring and nurturing ethos, this is not unique to faith schools.

    Lorenzo, I don’t despair at your differing views. I don’t think anyone’s views are any better or worse than mine, they are just different, carved by their own unique experiences and perspectives. I also like Ruth, however I don’t like her parties policies, particularly the one a few years back that gave a few billion in tax breaks to wealthy people, whilst simultaneously removing benefits from those who needed it most. That’s not how I would balance the books.

  • Helen Tedcastle 12th Aug '18 - 7:04pm

    Yvonne Finlayson

    Catholic schools can and do appoint non-Catholic teaching and non-teaching staff.

    There is a requirement that the headteacher is a Catholic and the RE department should be staffed wholly or mainly by Catholics in a Catholic school. As these posts are in positions of leading the school and setting its ethos, I don’t think this is unreasonable. Afterall, can the head of the British Humanist Association be a practising Catholic and at the same time promote secular-humanism? Indeed, would such a person bother to go for the appointment even if they were encouraged to, when the beliefs and values are so contrary to their own identity?

    With so few Catholic schools in Scotland compared to the vast number of non-denominational schools, the question would surely arise, why are the Liberal Democrats singling out communities of faith and the schools they run, rather than concentrating on improving existing school standards and furthering opportunities for all abilities across the board?

    The way to improve teacher recruitment is to improve the conditions of service for teachers across the board, rather than concentrate on the denominational question. Recruitment is one thing. Retention of good staff, Catholic or non-Catholic, is quite another.

  • Perhaps pupils are deemed not to have acquired fundamental human rights prior to majority; I can see no other way of justifying requiring pupils to be indoctrinated in a belief system which they may not even share, just because a parent or guardian demands it. Shouldn’t liberals protect the right of children to make their own religious choices in terms of education, just as we would protect the right of the child to choose whether or not to wear a headscarf or other religious identification?

  • I am not a Catholic. My wife is, our two children attended Catholic Primary & High Schools. Two of my grandchildren attend the same Catholic Primary as their parents. I do the school run most days. The children who attend are I would say about maximum 70% Catholic, the rest Protestant, Muslim, Hindu etc. Several of the teachers are not Catholic. The school, whilst being part of an Academy of local Catholic schools, obviously has to follow Offsted and Government instructions for teaching and standards. Frankly I do not see what the bother is about, there is very little day to day difference between the Catholic and the State Schools, and that difference seems to narrow by the year.

  • Yvonne Finlayson 13th Aug '18 - 8:22am

    The issue is why do we have unelected church representatives sitting on education boards (involved in decision making for all schools, not just faith schools). The majority of people in Scotland do not identify as having a religion.

    The issue is teachers not being able to take up a promoted post unless they get a supporting letter from a priest, yet the church do not fund schools. There is a shortage of Catholic teachers as many are in the non-denominational sector and for various reasons haven’t chosen to work in Catholic schools. I think we have enough on our plate trying to bridge the attainment gap without trying to add other layers of operational complexity into it.

    The issue is, according to the Catholic Education Service for England and Wales (I can’t find similar research for Scotland) that the majority of Catholic pupils have lapsed when leaving a Catholic School – which begs the question do they still serve what they set out to do?

    The issue is, if you support faith schools, how do we fund and adjust provision to meet all religions?

    Having read various Catholic newsletters there is also some dissatisfaction with more devout Catholics that in order to cater for those attending Catholic schools who are not of the faith, a Catholic curriculum is not being delivered, has been watered down, and they are not happy with the current provision either.

    Then we have requests from the Diocese that on building shared campus schools “ideally” toilets should not be shared. That has genuinely flummoxed me. If we believe in integration, what message does that give out and what is the rationale behind it?

  • @Yvonne Finlayson “What happens to a pupil who is Catholic and can’t access a faith school as there isn’t one where they live? Where do those pupils receive their religious instruction?”

    Exactly the same as everyone else! I was brought up a Quaker and went through the state system rather than to a Quaker school. I learnt my faith by regularly attending meeting, reading and being around other Quakers. Personally, I like the Quaker way of not really recognising you as a Quaker until at 18 you decide on whether you want to take that step.

    My daughter for various reasons attends the local Buddist temple, whilst being schooled through the non-denominational state system.

    So you need to do much more to convince me there is a problem. I do, however, think there is more of a problem with the growth of faith ‘schools’ outside of the mainstream education system, where there is little or no oversight of curriculum and teaching.

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