Reconnecting educational research, policy, and practice

Activity: Disseminating Research Presentation


Conference presentation as part of Religious and Moral Education panel


Withdrawing from Religious Education – on whose conscience?
This paper will discuss the right of parental withdrawal from the statutory subject Religious Education (RE) in Scottish primary and secondary schools. The background, history and current legislative situation relating to this right are considered, as well as current discussions and debates about this issue. The wording and interpretation of Human Rights framings for education (principally the UNCHR) are considered, which present guidance as well as challenges in terms of their interpretation about when children may develop the capacity to exercise their freedom of belief, expression, and religion. In this light this paper will also consider Biesta’s (2022) conception of the importance of subjectification in education (for all). His twofold understanding is that children and teachers should step into their ‘I’ in education, as well as realise they are subject to the world. How might the conscience clause as currently configured fit with such an understanding? The intentions of this paper are to establish how often and for what reasons parents opt to withdraw their children from RE in Scotland, as well as to investigate how schools and local authorities respond to requests for withdrawal. This research is informed by a survey of primary and secondary schools within two local authorities in particular. It emerges that there are relatively few cases of withdrawal. A majority of participating schools argued for the abolition of this right. The persistence of this right is also connected to the perception that RE remains confessional, and the discussion of policy, as well as the empirical evidence gathered, suggests that the non-confessional subject RE continues to be conflated with acts of worship, particularly in primary schools. Arguments for the continuation of the right to withdraw and its abolition are considered.
Period24 Nov 2022
Event titleScottish Educational Research Association: Annual Conference 2022
Event typeConference
LocationAyr, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Religious Education
  • Religious and Moral Education
  • Withdrawal
  • Conscience Clause