Legislative policy and school practice in Scottish religious education: to what extent is there a mismatch

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Abstract

Religious Education (RE) is arguably one of the most legislated curriculum areas anywhere in the world, and yet in countries where legislation and educational policy exist to support its provision how schools implement the subject in practice has not received much attention in the discourse. Focusing on Scotland, this article attempts to address this lacuna by analysing the disjuncture between legislative policy and school practice in RE as it exists in non-denominational schools. Informed by Stephen Balls’ idea of policy as ‘discourse’, the article theorises on how non-denominational schools engage with legislative policy that govern Scottish RE in light of a recent government report (‘Teaching Scotland’s Future’), which has decried teachers’ professional standards and called for an effective professional development regime for teachers as a way, inter alia, of minimising the implementation gap between educational policy and classroom practice. To facilitate this analysis, it poses several questions. First, considering that by law Scottish RE is a compulsory subject, what is the nature and extent of its provision in schools? Second, how do schools engage with Christianity vis-à-vis ‘other’ religions as a core religion of study in RE? Third, what is the extent of nomenclature shifts in RE, and how can this phenomenon be explained? Finally, how much curriculum time is apportioned to the teaching of RE? Is this within the levels recommended in national policy? If not, why? The article draws from a large phenomenological study (2007-2011) involving in-depth interviews with key stakeholders (n26), analysis of official documents and a school survey (n287). The data highlights increased contradictions and confusions of differential teacher and school experiences of and responses to legislative policy that govern Scottish RE, a contested and controversial subject, existing in an educational system where schools have increased autonomy regarding how the curriculum is delivered in practice. The discussion in this article offers possible explanations suggesting that the mismatch has to do more with the flexibility of the Scottish curriculum through the use of ‘open’ national guidelines, and the relative autonomy schools have within the educational system. What is problematised in this article is that mismatches between policy and practice in Scottish RE are symptomatic of the complexity of interpreting and applying legislative policy in a contested school subject.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2015
EventCIES 2015, 59th Annual Conference of the Comparative and International Education Society - Washington Hilton, Washington, D.C., United States
Duration: 8 Mar 201513 Mar 2015

Conference

ConferenceCIES 2015, 59th Annual Conference of the Comparative and International Education Society
CountryUnited States
CityWashington, D.C.
Period8/03/1513/03/15

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Matemba, Y. (2015). Legislative policy and school practice in Scottish religious education: to what extent is there a mismatch. Paper presented at CIES 2015, 59th Annual Conference of the Comparative and International Education Society, Washington, D.C., United States.