The Churches and Collective Worship in Schools
A position paper
Approved by the Churches’ Joint Education Policy Committee
9 May 2006
The Churches represented in the Churches’ Joint Education Policy Committee take the following position:
1. We strongly support the continuation of Collective Worship in all schools, recognising the major contribution it makes to the spiritual and moral development of pupils, which is a prime goal of education. It is believed by other faith groups to be of benefit even though its emphasis is mainly Christian. We look for Government support for an improvement in the quality of acts of collective worship and for ensuring that all pupils are able, with their parents’ consent, to attend meaningful acts of worship at school.
2. Collective Worship is of educational value to children, young people and adults within school and college communities. It provides a means of developing an appreciation that goes beyond the material world, fostering a concern for others and providing a forum for exploring shared values.
3. It is important that children and young people become familiar with the language and silence common to many forms of public worship. They are all likely to attend, at the very least, at some point in their lives, a funeral, a wedding or a baptism.
4. Collective Worship is a shared experience. It offers children, young people and adults an opportunity to participate in humanity’s shared search for God, and in doing so builds community in and beyond the school.
5. Collective Worship in most schools also provides the opportunity for students to gain an awareness of worship practices of faiths other than their own.
6. Collective Worship offers opportunities for co-operation and the fostering of strong relationships between individual schools and the local communities they serve. Local faith leaders should be utilised as a resource and invited to play a part in Collective Worship in schools in their own localities.
7. Collective Worship contributes towards schools’ statutory obligation to provide opportunities for students’ spiritual and moral development. It helps to equip young people to understand more about themselves, foster a sense of the aesthetic and to cope with life-changing moments. Collective Worship provides experience of meditation, reflection and prayer as spiritual resources.
8. Collective Worship can only make a significant contribution to school life when it is of high quality, respecting the integrity of pupils and staff, and providing opportunities for varied levels of participation.
9. Headteachers and others who lead and facilitate Collective Worship need to feel secure and have access to good quality resources. We note that the competencies listed for neither Initial Teacher Training nor NPQH address this statutory aspect of school life. These omissions result in teachers and Headteachers being insufficiently prepared to enable them to fulfil their role in Collective Worship. The TDA, NCSL and faith communities all have complementary roles in ensuring training is available.
10. We are concerned at the high level of non-compliance with the Law on Collective Worship in Secondary Community schools and the lack of engagement with this issue.
11. We are committed to working towards better implementation and support of the Law as it stands, for we believe it is already sufficiently flexible to achieve its aims. Many problems relating to Collective Worship derive from the existing guidance (Circular 1/94) and from misunderstanding or lack of knowledge of the Law rather than from the Law itself. A clear statement of the implications of the Law for schools, backed up with other resources, may resolve some of the issues leading to dissatisfaction with the legislation.
Collective Worship in Schools
Qs and As
Approved by the Churches’ Joint Education Policy Committee
18 November 2005
1. What does education law say about collective worship?
In every school, there should be an act of collective worship in which each pupil can participate every day.
2. Do pupils have to attend?
They do, unless their parents withdraw them. Parents can withdraw pupils from acts of collective worship on any or all occasions.
3. Presumably this is only pupils from 5 to 16?
No, every pupil in school, from the foundation stage through to post-16.
4. OK in a primary school, but how can we assemble them all in a secondary school?
Until 1988 the law expected collective worship to take place in an assembly of the whole school at the beginning of every day. But now, it can take place in any group at any time of the day: the whole school, or house or year groups, tutor groups, form assemblies.
5. How can it reflect the diversity of faiths in Britain?
The wording of the Act is that it is to be “wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character”. So it can be wholly Christian, in other words every day there would be a Christian act of worship. But it could be mainly Christian, meaning that, taken over the term as a whole, more of the acts of worship will be Christian than not. Of course that means that almost half the acts of worship could derive from the other great religious traditions.
6. What does broadly Christian mean?
The Christian worship should not be distinctive of any particular denomination. So, it would be unlawful, for example, for the act of collective worship in a community school to be a Eucharist or Mattins.
7. Does the worship always have to be “wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character”?
No. The school can seek a ‘determination’ from the Local Authority’s Standing Advisory Committee for Religious Education (SACRE). The determination could allow the daily act of worship to reflect the predominant major world faith found in the school, or indeed the range of faiths. The determination could specify that there would be no Christian worship. The SACRE has no power to nullify the requirement in law of daily worship for all pupils.
8. Does that mean it would be possible for pupils to meet for worship in distinctive faith groups?
Yes, provided the determination so specified.
9. Can faith schools seek such a determination?
No. The worship in such schools is not under the control of the Local Authority. That is the case for voluntary controlled schools with a religious character as well as voluntary aided or foundation schools with a religious character.
10. Does the law about “wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character” apply to faith schools (schools with a religious character)?
No, the worship in schools with a religious character is in accordance with the religious tradition of the school, and controlled by the governing body. So, for example, there could be a Eucharist in a church school.
11. Do parents have the right to withdraw their children from worship even in faith schools?
12. Does the act of worship have to take place in school?
It does, if the school does not have a religious character (that is, if the school is not a faith or church school).
13. Is that true of faith / church schools as well?
No, they can take the pupils to the church, or other place of worship with which they are linked, for the act of worship.
14. Is that true of voluntary controlled schools?
Yes. The law was changed in 1998 to allow voluntary controlled and foundation schools with a religious character to enjoy the freedom to have the daily act of collective worship in church on any particular day. This freedom had always been enjoyed by voluntary aided schools with a religious character.
15. Don’t schools find the law difficult to apply?
Most primary schools have a daily act of collective worship for all pupils. Roughly one in four secondary schools fully complies with the law, but others do in part.
16. Would the government support a change in the law?
No. Successive Secretaries of State for many years have indicated that they would not wish to see a change. The law is seen to be flexible and permissive.
17. What would the churches like to see happen?
It should be part of initial teacher training and of the National College of School Leadership’s preparation for headship that teachers and headteachers are trained and encouraged to see what can be done with the law on collective worship and what an important contribution collective worship makes to pupils’ development as well-rounded individuals.