Academics from across the UK question collective worship requirement in schools

13 November, 2015

The current law mandates broadly Christian collective worship in schools
The current law mandates broadly Christian collective worship in schools

A new report published by the Arts and Humanities Council (AHRC) has called for a substantial review of the law requiring all schools to hold a daily act of collective worship. The report, which examines the current landscape in all four nations of the UK, states that there is no ‘clear and agreed rationale for the current duties relating to collective worship’, which should therefore either be reformed or abandoned altogether.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has long campaigned against collective worship, instead calling for it to be replaced by a requirement to hold inclusive assemblies that genuinely contribute to the social and moral development of children, and to mutual understanding between those of different religions and beliefs.

Under legislation dating back to the 1944 Education Act, and subject to rules laid out in 1994, all state-funded schools in England and Wales must ensure that pupils take part in a daily act of collective worship, which in ‘faith’ schools must be in accordance with the religious character of the school. However, and in what has long been considered an affront to freedom and equality of religion and belief, worship in schools with no religious character must be ‘wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character’.

The report, compiled by a number of leading education academics, questions the ‘appropriateness of such acts in an increasingly pluralistic, multicultural UK’, as well as the degree to which the requirement ‘affords respect for the rights of individuals and minority groups, including those with no religious faith’.

Focussing specifically on England, the report also notes the high level of non-compliance with the law and the almost total lack of any attempt to enforce it. In 2004 Ofsted’s Chief Inspector reported that 76% of schools were failing to adhere to the requirement and a 2011 survey conducted for the BBC found that 64% of parents said their children did not attend worship at school.

This latest report into collective worship in our schools emphasises a growing consensus for change. It follows on from a landmark report spelling out the need to end collective worship from sociologist Linda Woodhead and former Education Secretary Charles Clarke, and echoes similar calls from the National Governors’ Association and even the Church of England.

BHA Faith Schools and Education Campaigner Jay Harman, said ‘Every week we receive calls and emails from parents who are having problems relating to religion at their children’s schools, and by far the most common grievance people have is over the provision and content of collective worship. Our education system is already beset by the scourge of discriminatory and exclusive ‘faith’ schools, and the only thing the collective worship requirement achieves is extending that discrimination to the entire system. We hope this report will bring renewed attention for the urgent need for reform.’


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Read the AHRC’s report ‘Collective Worship and Religious Observance in Schools: An Evaluation of Law and Policy in the UK’:

Read more about the BHA’s work on Collective Worship:

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.