Recognising Religious Education as Social Justice in Action: The Scottish Situation

This paper argues that the provision of Religious and Moral Education (RME) in Scottish non-denominational secondary schools could be enhanced by reconsidering its contribution to achieving social justice aims and challenging the dominance of attainment-centric practice.

RME is the only curriculum area that is legally required to be delivered in Scottish state-funded schools. However, research and reviews of practice have consistently found that schools flout this long-standing statutory requirement, and there is little evidence of effective curriculum regulation at a national level to secure universal provision. In particular, the lack of provision in RME is most pronounced for the senior-phase period of a learner’s school career, covering the compulsory S4 and the optional S5 and S6 years (Scholes, 2022 & 2020; Matemba, 2015; Education Scotland, 2014). Indeed, rather than high-quality universal provision, RME provision in the senior phase is normally reorientated towards certificated learning for those learners who choose to undertake a qualification in Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies (RMPS) offered by the Scottish Qualifications Authority. Such certificated learning in RMPS has qualitatively different aims than RME (Conroy et al., 2013).

Deploying Gale’s (2000) discussion of social justice orientations and centring on recognitive justice as its analytical lens, this paper revisits the abovementioned situation. It offers a fresh evaluation of the intended aims of RME within the curriculum. Focusing on the potential for RME to offer radical empowerment of learners as individuals actively engaged in the world, this paper suggests that RME has significant potential as a vehicle for social justice aims. However, it is also argued that such potentiality is frustrated by the prevailing accountability measures driven by policy directives. In turn, RME can be seen as a microcosm of the tensions and possibilities in the Scottish schooling system. Moreover, given the Scottish teaching profession’s emphasis on social justice as a core value of practitioners (GTCS, 2021), this paper concludes by highlighting the need to encourage school leaders and teachers to critically examine school-based curriculum design and provision as mechanisms for enacting socially-just schooling.