Council amends chaplain policy

FEARS that school chaplains could preach their views on issues such as gay marriage to pupils has led Scottish Borders Council (SBC) to alter its guidelines, writes Kenny Paterson.

Parents will now be allowed to see the written agreement between a head teacher and school chaplain after Tweeddale West councillor Catriona Bhatia raised concerns over the possible content of school services.

The amendment was made by SBC’s education committee as it agreed a revised religious observance policy for schools, as well as updating the role of the chaplain.

Councillor Bhatia said: “Parents may be comfortable with religious observance around Christmas, but a particular chaplain may be anti-gay marriage and introduce that into their service.

“How do we know what the content will be of the chaplain’s service?

“Some chaplains will stay away from issues such as that (gay marriage), but others may sway into it.

“Some religions have different rules and they are entitled to that, but they should not be introduced in our schools.”

Colin Easton, SBC’s policy manager, replied: “The head teacher will be responsible for the content.

“They will appoint the chaplain and will develop the religious observance programmes.

“The head will frequently develop it in discussions with senior pupils. We think this provides sufficient safeguards.”

Councillor Michelle Ballantyne said the policy cannot cover all eventualities, adding: “Some parents think that it is right to preach about gay marriage, others don’t.”

The religious observance policy – which aims to promote the spiritual development of pupils and differs from religious education – was last updated in 1984, and councillors agreed to look at it again within two years.

Committee member Graeme Donald said: “It is a timely report as school inspectors are in the process of conducting a review of religious observance and religious education, while the Church of Scotland is reviewing its own thinking on both.”