Schools opting for more inclusive assemblies over compulsory Christian worship

A number of schools have sought to free themselves from the requirement to hold daily Christian worship and provide more inclusive assemblies instead, a new investigation has revealed.

The investigation, carried out by Schools Week, found that nearly 50 schools have sought exemptions to the collective worship requirement in the last 18 months, with many wishing to hold either secular or multi-belief assemblies instead. The British Humanist Association (BHA), which has long campaigned against compulsory worship in schools and in favour of inclusive assemblies, has said that the findings demonstrate once again how uncomfortable schools are about forcing their pupils to worship.

Currently, all schools are required to hold a daily act of collective worship, and in schools with no religious character, this worship must ‘wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character’. While schools are entitled to request that the character of this worship be changed – to reflect the religious and non-religious make-up of the school, for instance – some form of ‘worship’ must nonetheless still be held, and ‘should be concerned with reverence or veneration paid to a divine being or power’.

In addition, the law does allow sixth form pupils or parents on behalf of younger pupils to withdraw their children from worship. In many cases, however, this means that pupils are sent to the corridor or an empty classroom and children can therefore miss out on any educational benefits of the inclusive parts of assemblies, feel excluded, and/or end up being victimised by their peers. The new findings suggest that schools consider holding more inclusive assemblies as a far more appropriate alternative.

Of course, the approach of many schools has long been to ignore the requirement altogether. Ofsted no longer inspects schools on their provision of collective worship, but its most recent review, published in 1998, revealed that there was evidence of at least partial non-compliance in over 70% of schools – a figure which no doubt will have increased since then given increasing diversity and declining religiosity in the UK. Nonetheless, the BHA easily receives more complaints about collective worship than it does about anything else.

BHA Education Campaigner Jay Harman commented, ‘The rise of more inclusive assemblies, twinned with long-standing non-compliance with the collective worship requirement, reflects the self-evident truth that forcing children from a variety of different religious and non-religious backgrounds to worship a god or gods they may very well not believe in is entirely inappropriate.

‘The question that the small minority of people who still support Christian worship in non-church schools have to answer is this: would they be comfortable if their own children were being proselytised to every day in a religion that wasn’t their own? Very obviously not.

‘Regardless of whether or not schools and parents are able to adequately opt out of worship, or how free schools are to ignore it, the better approach is clearly to require schools to hold secular and inclusive assemblies in the first place, rather than to merely allow schools to hold them having already foisted a requirement for denominational and divisive collective worship upon them. The Church of England and other Christian groups that support the current rules should search their consciences and join us in advocating for inclusive assemblies over sectarian worship.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact BHA Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman on 0207 324 3078 or jay@humanism.org.uk.

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

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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