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Thursday, August 23, 2007

An act of collective worship

I was e-mailed yesterday to ask my views on the requirement on schools to provide for all of their pupils a daily assembly in which they participate in an act of worship. This has traditionally been interpreted as a Christian act of worship but for some years now restrictions on accomodation has meant that such a provision has not been practical for many schools. It is also the case that it does not meet the needs of the multi-cultural Britain we now live in.

This is my response and, as it is intended to be circulated via the West Glamorgan Humanist's website anyway, I thought it worth posting here so as to stimulate debate and discussion. I have amended it slightly to take account of some thoughts that struck me as I re-read it:

The present requirement for schools to provide a daily act of what is interpreted as Christian worship for all pupils as enshrined in the 1944 Education Act is not a practical possibility for most schools and does not fit with the cultural, religious and ethnic make-up of modern 21st Century Britain. We have to recognise that pupils live and work side by side with others of all religions and cultures and we should amend the duty on schools to use morning assemblies and lessons to help youngsters understand, appreciate and benefit from the diverse society they live in.

In many schools there is no suitable hall or room capable of accommodating the whole school with the result that most headteachers stagger assemblies and interpret the requirement as providing an act of Christian worship at least once a week. Because of the diverse nature of their pupils many are able to opt out of these assemblies and do so, thus defeating the purpose of them. A multi-faith assembly staggered over the week or one focussed on educating children about the differences between all faiths and none would benefit everybody and lead to better tolerance and understanding within our society.

If at all possible the Welsh Assembly should review the present legal requirement and seek to amend it to accommodate these views.

Update: Oh dear, what have I started? And this.
Does the Assembly Government have the powers to change this already or will it have to request those powers from Westminster?
I dont know.
The current arrangements are outdated, but surely a secular morning event would be best. No-one could opt out then on 'faith' grounds. The trouble is that multi-faith invariably means, some sort of faith, and so does a dis-service to those who have no faith.

I'm sure the current 1940s arrangements were intended to strengthen the place of organised religion (i.e. the C of E) in schools as an instrument of social control - that's clearly failed, so why not just abandon the whole idea of worship in school assemblies?
I think I genreally agree with Peter's idea.

If I were a Parent I would strongly object if my children were forced to attend any religious service, at all.

This law doesn't accommodate atheists, or folks who prefer to keep their religious practice or lack of it private and not a matter of public education.

What right does the state have to impose the practice of 'worship' on my children?

Isn't it the responsibility of the parent to take their children to the ceremonies of religious people, so they can instill in these kids the value of religious tolerance?

A daily act of worship or even a daily moment of so-called 'silence' (code-speak of the American Far Right Religious wing-nuts for school prayer) is the imposition of a state religion, even if it introduces a variety of religious alternatives.

Freedom from religion seems as important as freedom of religion, as I understand it.
I'll put my hand up, I'm an atheist.

I thought long and hard about this when my children were in school. I would have liked to have exercised my right to withdraw them from religious assemblies, but my then wife had been withdrawn when she was a child. She felt it made her stand out and get picked on. So we adopted the tactic of allowing the kids to attend but making clear our scepticism at home.

I don't know whether this was the best decision, but I am angry that I was forced to take it. Schools are for education not indoctrination. If I wanted my children to take part in religious worship I would have taken them to church / mosque / synagogue / whatever.
Well Mark you are not a parent, and nobody can be forced into attending worship services in this country, if they choose not to.

I think you should save your rhetoric for the US, and not here.
Dear Anonymous,

I am a parent and I was forced to make a decision that I still don't know whether was correct or not. Ironically, this would not have been the case in the US, where they have a clear separation of church and state and the idea of compulsory acts of worship in state schools would be abhorrent to them.

Separation of church and state is one lesson i wish we would learn from the US.
I feel that from a liberal point of view this should not be dictated by the state in any way.

Its part of the everyday running of the school which should be up to the staff and the governors and the parents.

It is also, I believe, profoundly illiberal for the government to have any say in religious life. It is a matter for the individual, not the state (so finish the job and disestablish the CofE - we did Ireland and Wales now we should be finishing the job)

It is wrong in my mind to suggest any sort of multi-faith assembly be mandated. That is replacing one ideal with another.

This decision (as with so many others dictated by government) should be a matter for the school.

The space issue is a non-issue - collective worship does not entail the whole school, it could just be a class, year group or house (which is how it was often interpreted at my schools)
Actually space is very much an issue. The 1944 Education Act states that ‘the school day in every county school and every voluntary school shall begin with collective worship on the part of all the pupils in attendance’. In accordance with Britain’s traditional respect for religious freedom, the 1944 Act also gave parents the right to withdraw their child, perhaps in favour of separate arrangements.

The practical arrangements that schools put in place are in reality illegal and this has been picked up by inspectors in some cases. It is not their fault, they are being forced to implement an out of date and unworkable law.

I don't want to impose multi faith services on any school but the state does have a role in setting the curriculum, you cannot have a free-for-all, and in this case a reasonable change of the existing law might be placing a duty on schools to educate their pupils about the society we live in so as to promote understanding. This is not a government having a say in religious life but in education.
I am a parent and I do not want my children attending "worship" of any kind at school. The place for religious education is in a religious education lesson. Schools have a hard enough time trying to fit the national curriculum in as it is without having to also find time for a pointless and outdated practice such as collective worship. In an age when schoolchildren struggle with basic literacy shouldn't we be using their learning time more effectively than for relgious indoctrination? We would be horrified if schools allocated time for political indoctrination so why do we allow religious?
As I see it, there are two separate issues;

1. The requirement for a daily act of collective worship. I can see no justification for this and would like at least the requirement removed and ideally collective worship in schools banned.

2. Religious Education. It's very name is discriminatory, ignoring those people without religion. I understand the Scots have something called "Religious, moral and philosophical studies" (RMPS). maybe this is the way forward - teaching children about all the worldviews they are likely to encounter in their lives. This could include observing or taking part in acts of worship from various traditions, outside of the school premises.

Each issue can be addressed separately and need not have an effect on the other. Personally, I see the first one as the one most in need of attention.
I'm very glad to see that the consensus is education not indoctrination. "Multi-faith" is nonsense, what are they going to say that all religious people can agree on, it also discriminates against the non-religious, a growing but but often ignored group of people. Secular assemblies are the only way to go.
We took our son out of religious assembly. Why? Because he said he didn't like the idea of being given time out for not saying prayers and didn't want to go. His school is not a faith school, and as I understand it there are a few kids who don't go to the religious assemblies.

We spoke to the head teacher about it and we found she was really helpful, and said it wasn't a problem at all. I have to admit we were worried about the bullying etc, but so far we haven't had any issues at all.

I think the whole country should abandon this anachronistic idea religious worship in school. Keep faith and prayer in the privacy of homes and churches, not at schools. I'd also go one step further and get rid of the faith schools.
As an atheist, and a member of both the National Secular Society and British Humanist Association, I am very sad to see that this law is still standing.

A number of us from the above groups discussed the possibility of raising £2 million between all members to sponsor an Academy with a humanist and free-thought ethos.

We discovered that this would be illegal. Any tiny little cult that could describe itself as a religion, scientology anyone, is entitled to set up a school based on their 'faith', yet we cannot.

I sit on my local Standards Advisory Board for Education, and unless I or the BHA member I recruited say something the views of what is the second largest 'religious' group in the Borough count for nothing. In fact, we are not even allowed to vote.

When schools in the UK are being openly seduced by the likes of the Templeton Foundation (whose founders are evangelical christiand of the 'Intelligent Design' aka Creationism by the backdoor), it's time for at least the right for parents to have a secular choice.

My children will be hugely discrimated against in their choice of school as so many in our area are faith-schools. Has no-one seen the damage that segregation has caused in Northern Ireland? Time for a change of law I think...
Am I right in thinking that the Assembly has decided there will be no new faith schools in Wales and no Academies either?

Whilst I am opposed to the concept of sectarian schools, it is a separate issue. A valid one, but maybe one to be considered after a change in the law concerning collective worship?
RCT Liberal Democrats put a motion to our Spring Conference in 2006 as follows:

That it cannot be expected of schools to provide daily religious assemblies for an entire school and individual teachers should not be obliged to hold class-based worship every day.

That the requirement for all pupils in attendance at a maintained school to take part in an act of collective worship each day is impractical and the failure to do so leads to tension with the schools’ inspection service.

Conference calls for:

1. Welsh Liberal Democrats in Government/in the National Assembly to propose an Assembly Measure removing the legal obligation to provide daily collective worship for all pupils, by way of an Order in Council conferring the powers of the Education Reform Act 1988.

2. Welsh Liberal Democrats at each elected level to work alongside schools, teachers and pupils to establish the most appropriate arrangements for school assemblies and the role of worship in schools.

The vote was lost by 4 votes. Peter voted in favour if my memory serves. It was seen by some as an attack on religion, which was not the intention. It did however produce probably the liveliest conference debate in a long time.

The Western Mail reported it thus -
Actually the relevant Act of Parliament is not the 1944 Act but the 1988 Education Reform Act (the one brought in by Kenneth Baker that introduced the National Curriculum, Grant Maintained Schools and City Technology Colleges - yes that was a Tory idea!).

This takes the 1944 Act requirement for collective worship and adds a further requirement that it "shall be wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character." (S7(1))

Another example of regressive Tory social engineering that was of a piece and introduced at around the same time as the now (thankfully) repealed s28 about "promoting" homosexuality.
Has any school ever made use of this http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts1988/ukpga_19880040_en_2#pt1-ch1-pb5-l1g12 to get rid of this noxious practice or is it only used to replace christian worship with Jewish / Muslim / "multi-faith" collective worship?
I absolutely support a change to multi-faith or humanistic assemblies. My wife and I have been practicing Buddhists for 18 years, we are Welsh speakers and our daughter goes to a welsh medium school. Whilst we inform her about our philosophy and practice, her school (and I think Welsh medium schools in general) takes quite a strong Christian, chapel approach to assembly. Quite frankly she finds it boring singing songs, praising a god that she does not believe in. I'm sure that it's possible to hold an assembly that is not faith specific, that emphasises humanistic values, as taught by all religions. Religious education lessons can teach about the different ways in which people practice their faith. I know that some Muslim families keep their children out of school assembly because of the Christian emphasis. This is not right. Assembly should be for all of the children in the school, to praise their efforts and teach about tolerance, compassion, caring for others. It should be joyful and stimulating, inspiring and creative. I'm afraid I don't think that the current way of conducting school assembly achieves this in most schools. It's a rather boring, uncomfortable event that children are glad to see finish. Given the terrible event in Liverpool, there is an increasing need to ensure that children are receiving a solid foundation of humanistic phiosophy, that they can relate to. One that teaches the equality of all and sanctity of life.
I support multi-faith assemblies in all schools in Wales, with humanistic values to be instilled.
We had prayers in assembly when I was in school. To be honest not too many people are religious anymore or pray. When we were told we would do a prayer, because it was not my belief I would remain still and quiet for others out of respect but I would not participate. Maybe they should change it so instead of praying to have a "moments quiet prayer/thought on blah subject" like charities, what you can do to help others, I don't know whether other religiouns pray et but this way it is sill "holding onto tradition" but allowing everyone from any religion or lack of religion to participate without wanting to be excluded from them. and then possibly if that does not work leave it out all together cause then it would be less of a jump from religious to nothing which would stop such a fuss from those who wish to pray. That hopefully makes sense.

I'm not sure whether this is a pub fact or not, but does anyone know whether it's correct that the UK is the closest to being the most theocratic state in Europe other than the Vatican?

I can think of the following which suggest it might: Head of State = 'Defender of the Faith' and head of the established church; unelected bishops sitting in the upper legislature and intervening in domestic legislation ... ?

(I suppose I could add the hours of tedious religious programming our boadcasters seem to have to provide too, especially on Sundays.)
As someone who is often present in school assemblies what depresses me most is the attitude of the teachers to the children. There can be an oppressive empty 'here are the rules for today' approach. The kids have no idea where they have come from, why they are here, or where they may be heading. Can it be any wonder that we now have a generation of children who feel aimless and frustrated?

On the other hand, I have heard some wonderfully hope giving talks dealing with all sorts of issues of forgivemess, love, friendship etc right out of the pages of the Bible which have inspired the children and lifted the whole atmosphere.

I sometimes wonder if people really know what they are seeking to throw out - another social experiment to repent of in a generation's time?
Its unfortunate that this thread instead of being a intelligent debate on school assemblies. seems more like a moan session from a bunch of secular fundies who employ the same propaganda as their "religious" counterparts in the US.

I suppose the current law with regard to religion and schools is supported by the 2001 census, but I wonder how many ticked the Christian box due to cultural or traditional reasons and not because they were practicing Christians?

It’s difficult to believe that 70% of the population are true Christians when church attendance etc is at an all time low. However, Christian activists are still quite happy to use these dodgy stats to claim, most likely inaccurately, that the UK is a Christian country, and therefore for example, supports the Christian religious indoctrination of their children in UK schools, before they have had a chance to decide for themselves.

I can’t see things changing much until those people who pretend to be Christians tick the non religious box or Humanist box, therefore sending a clear representative signal to the government.

It’s an often wrongly assumed that people, especially the young, need religion in order to live moral lives. Morals develop from human interaction and need to be free to change along with human knowledge; to interfere with this is dangerous for society and democracy as a whole in my view. For these reasons I am seriously opposed to the religious indoctrination of the vulnerable i.e. children and others in society particularly if it is supported by the state.

I think while strange beliefs and customs exist in the world, its important for children be educated about them, as we all have to get on etc, but this should be strictly kept within the religious education lesson and out of daily school assemblies that should be secular in my view.

Andrew. Cardiff.
Collective worship undermines education. Education should be about learning what we know to be true, how to be discerning and careful in forming beliefs, how to be rational and submit our ideas to the tests of reason and experience and argument. It should be about creating thoughtful, rational, intelligent, careful, reasoned people. Any practice that says in effect, "never mind the evidence, believe anyway, believe on faith" is a practice that runs counter to this spirit. Making children "worship God" every day of their school lives is a powerfully consistent reminder that the rational approach is not important. It is a contradiction of the spirit of true education.
Please stop talking about the 1944 Education Act! The law in this area was thoroughly revised in 1988 to create the current legal situation -- where "Collective Worship" (so called) does not have to be at the beginning of the day, does not have to involved all pupils in the school together (class, year or house groupings are fine), and on up to 49% of days can be non-Christian, ie focused on any other religion or none. This gives vast amounts of flexibility to schools to accommodate the views of their pupils (or their parents). Also, nothing is forced on anyone -- all parents have the right to withdraw their children from collection worship and RE.
We all inevitably have a choice when it comes to belief. Collective worship that is broadly of a christian nature never demands that children agree with everything that is said and done. As a teacher in my experience children are always told they can join with a prayer or not.
I am saddened that in our society some people seem unable to accept others opinions and may consider someones faith pointless when in fact it means a lot to them. Where are we heading if we cannot support each other in diffrerence of opinion? Which is what children face from an early age. 'Collective Worship' does not 'force' anything on anyone. It provides more often than not an opportunity for community and may be the only time a whole school meets in such a way. When 'Collective Worship' is at it's best it requires a litle thought, consideration and respect but does not demand a committment to a belief.
I am a Evangelical Christian schools worker in North East Wales. I have seen collective worship in a number of schools, and feel I need make a few things clear.

In many schools, 'collective worship' now consists of time spent together, where a moral story or fable is told, or a personal/social issue is discussed. The degree to which Religion is included is often dependent on the issue being discussed, or the teacher leading the assembly. There are some issues where religious input is useful, or necessary, and this is recognised. Songs with little or no religious content are also commonplace. Prayers are encouraged and carried out, but are certainly not forced! For example, if I lead an assembly and say a prayer, do I hand out detention to pupils who clearly aren't listening? Of course not.

However, some people seem happy with the idea of forcing children NOT to pray!

We should remember that it is only a small minority of the population that are vehemently opposed to the place of religion in schools.

I believe that there should certainly be a balance in the representation of faiths, taking social and geographical factors into consideration. For example, I would expect an area such as Newport to have a much more diverse provision than Ynys Mon. I certainly do not subscribe to the idea no other faith systems should be taught in schools, as some Christian commentators have offered. This only breeds ignorance and a lack of understanding.

A careful balance is required, where faiths are represented in relation to the community served by the school. Remember, the Christian faith is still by far the most practised religion in Wales, and indeed Britain, and should therefore be represented as such in mainstream education.
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