The Telegraph reports:
The National Governors’ Association calls for the abolition of the 70-year-old rule that requires schools to hold a Christian assembly every day, saying it is “meaningless”
Laws requiring schools to hold a religious assembly every day should be scrapped because they are “meaningless” in a multicultural society, according to school governors.
The National Governors’ Association said the 70-year-old legislation – requiring pupils to take part in a “broadly Christian” act of daily collective worship – should be abolished in non-religious schools amid concerns the rules are no longer fit for a 21st century education system.
In a policy statement, the group said schools often failed to meet the requirement because staff were “unable or unwilling” to lead pupils in prayer and schools struggled to accommodate large numbers of children in one hall.
The organisation – representing more than 300,000 school governors across England – also insisted the “act of worship” implied belief in a particular faith which was “meaningless” at a time when schools are made up of pupils with large numbers of different cultures and religions.
It said that schools were “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 the timetable.
The comments will resurrect the row over the rules – set out in the 1944 Education Act – that require all state schools to provide Christian worship every day.
The intervention was welcomed by secular groups. The British Humanist Association insisted that schools should be “holding inclusive assemblies that forward the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of all pupils and staff”.
Almost two-thirds of parents responding to a survey three years ago said their children did not take part in collective worship at school every day, with secondary schools far more likely to shun the requirement than primaries.
But any change to the law will be strongly resisted by the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church which believe that the requirement provides a strong moral framework for young people.
The CofE has said that the move would “deny children the opportunity to experience something they wouldn’t experience elsewhere in their lives”.
However, the NGA – the biggest organisation representing school governors – said the rule was no longer necessary in non-religious state schools.
Its policy committee revised its position on the issue earlier this month, saying that it believes “collective worship should be abolished in schools without a designated religious character”.
“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,” it said in a statement.
“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 NGA added: “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.”
Parents currently have the right to pull children out of religious assemblies but the power is not extended to the pupils themselves.
Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, said: “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.”