Collective worship in schools called into question
THE PLACE of collective worship in schools has been called into question.
A new Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded report questions the premise of a nationally observed Collective Worship duty in state schools.
The report asks if there is a rationale for such a duty based on the personal needs of pupils, educational or social needs of the school, wider society, or a mixture of these, and whether those needs can be met through designated assemblies or adequately fulfilled through the curriculum.
The Department of Education issues guidelines for schools in England, but the report points out that this has no legal basis. There is no guidance issued in Northern Ireland, in Scotland the guidance has a ‘lack of clarity’ while in Wales there was a lack of data available.
The report says that a solution could be to abolish collective worship or religious observance, leaving schools to choose whether to host ‘extended assemblies’ to promote educational values.
The report focuses on schools without a specific religious character.
It also suggests another option of a ‘Reform Duty’, which would include England and Wales removing the requirement that acts of collective worship be of ‘a broadly Christian Character’, introduced by the Education Reform Act 1988.
Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, told The Church of England Newspaper that the fact of the Church of England being the established state church in England should inform lessons of culture and history, rather than acts of worship in schools, which are places for knowledge and objectives.
Dr Romain said there should be times of coming together informed by core values of trust, tolerance and respect, and that there could be religious readings and secular poems in schools but not in the context of worship.
“Assemblies can have a positive role as a time of shared values and communal togetherness but should not be a divisive imposition of religious worship,” he said.
The report also says any changes should include an ‘opt out’ clause for pupils wishing to withdraw from collective worship or religious observance, a ‘monitoring mechanism’ in Northern Ireland, and clearer guidance from Ofsted.