HL Deb 28 July 1981 vol 423 c752WA
Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are satisfied with the present statutory position with regard to the inspection of religious education in Scottish schools.

The Earl of Mansfield

At present Section 66(2) of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 prohibits HM Inspectors from inquiring into religious instruction in Scottish schools. This provision, which dates from 1872, was clearly designed to prevent central Government exercising undue influence over the content of religious instruction, and has been the basis for the long-standing tradition that my right honourable friend does not concern himself 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 right honourable friend's principal advisory body on the school curriculum, should take over responsibility for curriculum development in the field of moral and religious education. The further issue of an examination in religious studies is currently under consideration following a recommendation 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 from the Churches and other interests about the state of religious education in schools, the Government 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 before the House, 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 as necessary. The Scottish Education Department have today asked the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Scottish Churches and other interested bodies for their views on this proposal.

House adjourned at fourteen minutes before nine o'clock, until Thursday next.