Parents say religious worship is least appropriate activity for school assemblies, new poll reveals

9 August, 2019

Parents believe religious worship is the least appropriate activity for school assemblies, ranking it last among 13 possible topics or activities, according to a new poll released today.

Humanists UK, which last week announced it is backing Lee and Lizanne Harris who are taking a legal challenge over their children’s school assemblies, says the poll shows the need to change the law, which currently mandates that every state school in England and Wales holds a daily act of worship.

The YouGov poll of 1,613 British adults asked: ‘Currently, state schools are required by law to hold an assembly every day. Which of the following do you think would make for appropriate topics or activities for such assemblies?’

It then listed 13 topics and activities, asking respondents to identify what ‘would’ or ‘would not’ be appropriate out of the following: Exploration of moral and ethical issues; Equality and non-discrimination; Arts and culture; Historical events; The environment and nature; Education about religions and beliefs; Acts of religious worship; Relationships and self-esteem; Physical and mental health; Humanitarian issues; Charity and volunteering; Celebration of achievements; and Politics and government.

The environment and nature was considered the most appropriate topic (79% of total respondents) followed by physical and mental health and celebration of achievements (both 75%) and equality and non-discrimination (72%). Very small numbers (between 7-12%) said each of those topics would not be appropriate.

Conversely, acts of religious worship were least likely to be seen as appropriate (28%), with half (50%) of all adults saying they would not be appropriate. The second least popular was politics and government, but even here a plurality backed learning (45% appropriate to 35% not appropriate). 

The poll also surveyed parents of school-aged children aged 5 to 16 years. Amongst parents, a majority (51%) said acts of religious worship are not appropriate, with just 29% saying they are appropriate. 

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: ‘The law requiring religious worship is way out of step with public opinion and the wishes of most parents who think it is inappropriate for school assemblies. Instead, people want assemblies to focus on building mutual respect, big ethical issues, and celebrating achievement. It’s time for government to change the law.’

Lee and Lizanne Harris said: ‘This evidence shows that many parents like us believe that daily collective worship is inappropriate for school assembly and instead should be replaced with topics that are relevant and important to children’s education and growth. We think it’s vital that our children learn about different religions and humanism in RE but we think hymns and prayers at school assembly should be scrapped and they should be replaced with the more popular option of inclusive assemblies.’

Last week Humanists UK announced it was supporting Lee and Lizanne Harris in their bid to challenge the collective worship law and replace it with inclusive assemblies for those who want them. The case will be heard at the High Court in November.


For more information, contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at or 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 1,613 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 5th – 6th August 2019.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

See the full results of the YouGov poll here: 

Read more about the collective worship legal case:

About collective worship

The current collective worship law, a version of which has been in place in England and Wales since 1944, requires all state schools to provide an act of daily worship. Even in schools with no religious character, this must be ‘of a broadly Christian character’. The UK is the only country in the world to impose compulsory Christian worship as standard in its state schools. 

In 1998 proposals to reform the law in line with what Humanists UK would like to see were supported by all the major teaching unions, the Local Government Association, most national RE bodies including two-thirds of the members of the RE Council, two-thirds of Standing Advisory Councils for Religious Education, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Christian Education Movement, the Buddhist Society, the Sikh Education Council, the National Council of Hindu Temples, and all responding members of the Inter Faith Network for the UK. In 2006 legislative proposals to the same end were also supported by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís, the Unitarian Church, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, and the Hindu Academy.

Sixth form pupils can withdraw from compulsory collective worship and parents can also withdraw their children but, as the Harrises found out, schools generally do not provide a suitable educational alternative to collective worship. The Harrises are arguing that human rights laws impose a legal obligation for them to, and it is hoped that this challenge will establish clear case law that this is indeed so.

Humanists UK wants the requirement for collective worship to be repealed, and replaced by a requirement for inclusive assemblies, which forward the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of all pupils, without discriminating against any on the basis of their religion or non-religious beliefs. However, this case has the more modest goal of simply establishing that schools must provide such inclusive assemblies as an alternative to collective worship.

Read more about Humanist UK’s work on collective worship:   

Read Humanists UK’s guide for non-religious parents and young people on religion in schools in England and Wales:

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.