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Governors call for end to compulsory worship in state schools with no religious character

The National Governors’ Association (NGA) today announced new policy ‘that collective worship should be abolished in English schools without a designated religious character.’ The British Humanist Association (BHA), which, in common with many religious groups and teaching unions, has long urged a change in the law, has welcomed the announcement.

Explaining its new policy, the NGA has told its members:

‘Few schools can or do meet the current legislative requirement for a daily act of collective worship, partly because there isn’t space in most schools to gather students together, and often staff are unable or unwilling to lead a collective worship session. There is also the added issue that worship implies belief in a particular faith – if the ‘act of worship’ is not in your faith then it is meaningless as an act of worship. The view was taken that schools are not places of worship, but places of education, and expecting the worship of a religion or religions in all schools should not be a compulsory part of education in England today. This is different in schools with a religious character – as faith schools are termed in the legislation – where parents have chosen to send their child in the knowledge that the particular faith and its worship is at the core of the ethos of the school.

‘Removing the collective worship from the remit of schools that are not faith schools would not prevent them from holding assemblies that address a whole range of topics, including faith and belief. In addition, it does not alter our position on religious education; it is important that students should continue to be taught a broad and balanced curriculum that encourages a knowledge and understanding of all faiths.’

Welcoming the NGA’s announcement, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

‘The continued operation of this seventy-year-old law requiring daily Christian worship in schools is widely opposed. Teachers don’t want it, parents don’t want it, pupils don’t want it, and according to opinion polls, 60% of the public don’t want it. Now the national body for governors is saying they don’t want it either.

‘We are contacted every week by parents with complaints and concerns at their children experiencing proselytising in school, with children as young as four coming home and telling their non-religious parents they believe in God, or being distressed at age-inappropriate tales about hell, or feeling excluded from a part of school life after having been opted out by their parents who for reasons of conscience have had no other choice.

‘In a plural and fair-minded society that cares about children and their development, schools should be holding inclusive assemblies that forward the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of all pupils and staff, regardless of their religious or non-religious beliefs.’

Notes

For further comment or information contact Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs at pavan@humanism.org.uk or on 0773 843 5059.

Read more about the BHA’s work on Collective Worship: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/collective-worship/

The last public opinion poll on Collective Worship was in 2011. For more information: https://humanism.org.uk/2011/09/06/news-235-3/

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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