Letter: The Scottish Secular Society responds to Kevin McKenna’s article

Posted by on 1 January, 2018 | 0 comments

Kevin McKenna was correct in arguing that having denominational schools are not a right of religions; he was wrong in arguing that we should seek to establish more faith schools in Scotland to compensate for the over-provision of Catholic schools.

Love, compassion and human dignity are not the exclusive preserve of religions and do not require the provision of faith schools for young people to learn them. These are obvious components of an inclusive and civilised society.

The Scotland of 2018 is not the Scotland of 1918. Religious affiliation is falling, and is crashing among young people.  In 2016, 74% of 18 to 24-year olds said they had no religion. These are the parents of the next generation of students in our schools. The proportions of Catholics and other Christian affiliations have remained stable at around 10% each, with other religions at 2%. As a consequence, Scotland tends to lead the UK in socially liberating attitudes and policies such as removing the gender qualification for marriage.

In Scotland there are 369 denominational schools educating 18% of the school population. That proportion rises to 21.4% at secondary level. For historical reasons, all but four of those denominational schools are Catholic. At the very least, this is 100% over-provision of publicly-funded school places in proportion to the confessing Catholic population.

Denominational schools are generally found where they fell 100 years ago. There are no Catholic denominational schools on any island with the exception of Bute, which lies just off Argyll and bumps into the mainland in a heavy swell.

The west of Scotland is over-provided with denominational schools and the north-east and highlands under-provided. There appears to have been no attempt to provide new denominational schools where, arguably, there would be a demand.

Why are local education committees content to continue with significant over-provision of denominational schools in places such as Glasgow, West Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire and Inverclyde?

Ultimately, many of the arguments that proponents make for the continuation of denominational schools in receipt of state funding come down to retaining embedded privilege. A good school will be a good school without giving one religion priority over other religions, or Christianity priority over other faiths, or belief over non-belief.

I welcome Kevin McKenna’s support for secularism, the protector of all faiths and none, and the excellent work done in schools by TIE to tackle gender-based discrimination and bullying.


Patrick Mackie, board member
Scottish Secular Society



I conducted an analysis of denominational school provision in every local authority in Scotland based on the Scottish Government’s own data on school rolls in 2016 and the religious affiliations recorded in the 2011 census (published at http://patrickmackie.wordpress.com/2018/01/13/does-denominational-school-provision-in-scotland-match-religious-affiliation/). Source for all cited data.

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