Scrap Religious Assemblies in Schools Says Report: According to a report carried out by the University of Leicester on behalf of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, religious assemblies in schools should be scrapped.
Among the reasons given by the report are that the assembly must be Christian in nature, and thus may discriminate against other religions, as well as the fact that parents are often not aware that they can request that their children are withdrawn from the activity.
The duty to provide an act of collective worship was introduced in 1945, and has long been seen as controversial. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, schools are required to provide daily acts of collective worship, and in Scotland religious observance is required. Additionally, if the school in question is a faith school, then the religious assembly must take place in line with the specific faith in question.
In non-religious schools, the act of assembly must be ‘broadly Christian’ in character, without favouring any particular denomination. It is these schools on which the report focuses, utilising the views of ten UK scholars.
The findings question the value of this form of assembly in a UK which is increasingly multi-cultural and in which many religions interact, including those individuals who do not have faith themselves. There are also concerns over whether the current arrangements are effectively developing the spiritual/moral education of pupils, or are promoting community spirit.
Additionally, the findings from this report also include reference to statistics from 2004, when the Chief Inspector of Schools for England found that more than three quarters (76%) of secondary schools were ignoring their duty – i.e. they were not providing a daily collective act of worship.
Among the report’s recommendations are that schools and local education authorities should make it clear to parents that their children can be withdrawn from this type of activity, and additionally that schools should make alternative provisions for those children who are opted out of the activity. It also suggests that schools should publicise the content of acts of worship, allowing parents and guardians to make informed decisions about their children’s experience.
The Department for Education noted that the assembly encourages pupils to reflect on belief, and that it helps to shape several important British values – such as tolerance, respect and understanding of others. Additionally, a DfE spokesman said that it is “for schools to tailor their provision to suit the needs of their pupils.”
He later referenced the fact that schools are able to apply to the local Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (Sacre) to lift the requirement for worship to take a Christian form – for instance in areas where the majority of pupils are of a faith other than Christian.
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