Pupil speaks out over “promoted” anti-abortion agenda in Renfrewshire school
A SECOND WEST OF SCOTLAND school has been accused of failing to provide inclusive education on issues of abortion, religion, and sexuality by one of its current pupils.
A student at St. Benedict’s High School in Renfrewshire, verified by CommonSpace, has spoken out following similar concerns raised by a former pupil of St Luke’s High School in neighbouring East Renfrewshire.
Both schools have posted anti-abortion content on their official social media platforms, and wider questions have been raised about anti-abortion groups in schools, and inclusive education for pupils who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender (LGBT).
St. Benedict’s High School shared an image of the 31st of January with a young pupil promoting the anti-abortion group SPUC. Pupils from the school also attended an anti-abortion mass on January 25, supported by Bishop of Paisley John Keenan and the SPUC’s John Deighan.
“The really concerning thing is that the pupils in question weren’t told the nature of the Mass – a ‘gathering’ to condemn the 50th anniversary of the Abortion Act – until they were en route to the Mass.” St. Benedict’s High School pupil
A current pupil of the school contacted CommonSpace to share their concerns: “I’m a current pupil from St. Benedict’s High School, Renfrewshire. I read CommonSpace’s article regarding a former pupil at St. Luke’s High School, and I wanted to share my experiences as well.
“Recently, the school’s started up an anti-abortion group, and compared to a lot of other groups within the school it has been promoted rather strongly. There was one case that particularly stood out for me.
“A few senior pupils I know were asked to go along to a Mass in order to represent the school. This isn’t normally a big deal – the pupils who are asked are typically working towards a Caritas Award, which includes hours of ‘faith witness activities’. The really concerning thing is that the pupils in question weren’t told the nature of the Mass – a ‘gathering’ to condemn the 50th anniversary of the Abortion Act – until they were en route to the Mass.”
The Abortion Act event launched a partnership between the Paisley diocese, which works closely with local faith schools like St Benedict’s, and the anti-abortion group SPUC. Bishop Keenan, who recently praised President Trump’s crackdown on abortion funding, invited local schools to the event.
SPUC chief executive John Deighan, who addressed the event, told CommonSpace last year that condoms are “very ineffective”, gay relationships contribute to social breakdown, and called for the criminalisation of abortion with “sanctions” on women to “make sure that they don’t do them”.
A “pro-life group” from the same school visited and donated money to a religious anti-abortion sect called ‘Sisters of the gospel of life’ in 2011.
Abortion legislation is being devolved to the Scottish Parliament under the 2016 Scotland Act, which has led to feminist campaign groups and religious lobbyists calling for access rights to be extended or curtailed.
The pupil’s concerns extended to sex education and inclusion for LGBT people, which has been the driving force behind the Time for Inclusive Education (Tie) campaign in Scotland.
The Scottish Catholic Education Service (SCES), which provides curriculum guidance for faith schools like St. Benedict’s, states that teaching about relationships is a “sensitive issue” and asserts the right of faith schools to provide guidance “in line with the teachings of the Church” – whose leaders opposed the legalisation of same-sex marriage.
“It’s something that I’m really concerned about. I’m not part of the LGBT community myself, but I know several people in my year who are, and I’m really worried that they feel that they can’t speak out if they have concerns or if they experience abuse.” St. Benedict’s High School pupil
“In general, the attitude in the school towards the likes of pro-life and sex education is very worrying,” the pupil told CommonSpace. “Around the corner, about 10 minutes away, is another, non-denominational high school. In primary school, the Catholic and non-denominational school were separated by nothing more than a fence, yet they felt separated by so much more than that.
“It seems just crazy to me that, despite their geographical closeness, they can both learn radically different things about sex education. It almost seems quite dangerous for young people to have such different ideas of sex education.
“It’s something that I’m really concerned about. I’m not part of the LGBT community myself, but I know several people in my year who are, and I’m really worried that they feel that they can’t speak out if they have concerns or if they experience abuse.”
Polling data gather by Stonewall Scotland found that homophobic language is common throughout schools in Scotland – both non-denominational and faith bases. LGBT young people are more likely to experience bullying, self-harm, and in more horrific circumstances, suicide.
Scottish political leaders have all called for further action to provide teachers will support to confront bigotry, and allow inclusive education in schools on sexuality.
“It is absolutely essential that all schools have an inclusive ethos…This commitment is at the heart of our curriculum and staff in every school take on dedicated equalities roles”. Renfrewshire Council spokesperson
According to the pupil who contacted CommonSpace, concerns about teaching go beyond sexuality and abortion rights to the principle of the right to open information and free discussion on the variety of held views in relation to faith.
“Another thing that’s particularly stuck out to me is that a fellow pupil wanted to opt out of religious observance (as was her right, with the permission of her parents), and she was told that she couldn’t,” they told CommonSpace.
“It took this long, protracted battle for her to be able to opt out, and even then she’s still being looked down upon for it. Looked down upon – for exercising her legal rights, rights that she was misinformed about.
“And it’s these two things which concern me a lot. In the first instance, the thing that really concerns me is the way in which the position has been presented. It’s been presented as gospel, without any sort of debate or opportunity to question it.
“It’s quite concerning that the attitudes of the school seem to differ so radically between departments. In the likes of History and Modern Studies, a big part of the subject is about taking sources of information, and questioning them for things like bias or misinformation, yet on the religious side of the school bias and misinformation is presented without debate. Perhaps people wouldn’t be so willing to withdraw from RE if they felt their opinions and viewpoints could be taken into account and respected.
“The misinformation and lack of clarity in the above examples – with the anti-abortion mass and trying to withdraw from RE – also concerns me. It gives the rather sinister suggestion that pupils are only in RE, and would only go to anti-abortion masses if they were lied to or misled, as if they would choose not to if they had the proper information at hand.”
The Scottish Government was forced to launch a consultation on giving 16 and 17 year olds the right to opt-out of religious observance in schools, following a legal challenge by the Humanist Sociey on the grounds that current national guidelines breached human rights legislation 16 and 17 year olds can opt-out of observance in English schools.
A spokesperson for Renfrewshire Council, contacted about the case, said: “St Benedict’s High School staff informed pupils that the mass at St Mirin’s Cathedral was an SPUC event and made clear that no-one was required to attend. Participation in religious observance is not compulsory in any school and parents have the right to withdraw their child from such services.
“It is absolutely essential that all schools have an inclusive ethos where every pupil is equal, welcome, respected and supported. This commitment is at the heart of our curriculum and staff in every school take on dedicated equalities roles, which involve providing guidance and support to pupils on a range of issues, including health and sexual identity.”
The example shown by the former St Luke’s High School pupil was credited with giving the confidence to the pupil from St Benedict’s to share their story.
“Thanks for CommonSpace’s article – it’s helped me to speak out, and I hope it helps others to speak out too,” the pupil said.
Picture courtesy of William Murphy
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