§ Mr. Peter Fraser
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is satisfied with the present statutory position with regard to the inspection of religious education in Scottish schools.
§ Mr. Younger
At present section 66(2) of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 prohibits Her Majesty's inspectors from inquiring into religious instruction in Scottish schools. This provision, which dates from 1872, was clearly designed to prevent the Government exercising undue influence over the content of religious instruction, and has been the basis for the long-standing tradition that I do not concern myself with the teaching of religious subjects in schools.
In recent years, however, there has developed a general view that religious education should no longer be treated as a subject set apart from other subjects in the curriculum. In accord with this growing view, the then Secretary of State set up the Millar committee in 1968 to review the practice of non-denominational schools with regard to moral and religious education and to make recommendations for its improvement. Subsequently, one of the important recommendations of the Millar committee, that a Teaching Qualification (Secondary Education) in religious education should be available, was implemented, as was the recommendation that the Consultative Committee on the Curriculum, my principal advisory body on the school curriculum, should take over responsibility for curriculum development in the field of moral and religious education. I currently have under consideration the further issue of an examination in religious studies following a recommendation to me by the Consultative Committee on the Curriculum and the Scottish Certificate of Education Examination Board that such an examination should be introduced.
In the light of these developments and of representations made to me by the Churches and other interests about the state of religious education in schools, I have reached the conclusion that the long-standing bar on the inspection of religious subjects is no longer appropriate and that the opportunity of the Education (Scotland) Bill, currently being considered in another place, should be taken to repeal section 66(2) of the 1980 Act, so that religious subjects may in future be treated on the same footing as other subjects in the curriculum and may be open to review by Her Majesty's inspectors on my behalf as necessary. My Department has today asked the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Scottish Churches and other interested bodies for their views on this proposal.