A Bill proposing to replace compulsory religious worship in English schools with inclusive assemblies has been introduced in the House of Lords. The Education (Assemblies) Bill was tabled by All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) Vice-Chair Baroness Burt with support from Humanists UK.
If it becomes law, schools without a religious character will be required to provide inclusive assemblies. They will need to develop the ‘spiritual, moral, social, and cultural education’ of all pupils, regardless of religion or belief. This will replace an existing requirement for daily compulsory collective worship. The Bill also proposes that no compulsory acts of worship or other religious observance should be organised by schools. But, it will allow pupils to opt-in to voluntary acts of worship if they so wish. Parents will retain the right to withdraw those aged under 16 from such sessions.
The UK is the only sovereign state in the world to impose worship in all state schools, including those without a religious character. Outside of faith schools, this worship must be ‘broadly Christian’. Parents may withdraw their children from worship and sixth form pupils in England and Wales may withdraw themselves. But younger pupils may not withdraw without parental permission. What’s more, the process is often difficult and no meaningful alternative to worship is offered in the vast majority of schools.
Collective worship is largely unpopular with parents. A 2019 YouGov poll found that just 29% of parents think religious worship is appropriate for school assemblies. They ranked it last on a list of 13 possible topics and activities for these sessions. More popular topics and activities included environment and nature (which 79% of parents supported), physical and mental health (75%), and celebration of achievements (also 75%). Despite this, the UK Government recently said that schools breaching the requirement to carry out worship would be ‘investigated’ and ‘reminded of their duty on this matter’.
Baroness Lorely Burt said:
‘The discriminatory law requiring daily Christian worship in all schools has been in place for more than 75 years. It is not just very outdated, it actively threatens the freedom of belief of millions of children and their families.
‘I have introduced this Bill because I strongly believe that schools should never impose a particular faith on pupils. Instead, assemblies should be inclusive and suitable for all regardless of their background or beliefs.’
Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham commented:
‘Compulsory worship is a huge problem for many families. In fact, we receive more requests for help and support on this issue than any other. This may soon get worse, given the Government says it intends to enforce the law for the first time in over the last 20 years.
‘UK schools teach children from a diverse range of backgrounds, including the non-religious. The assemblies they provide should reflect this. We firmly support Baroness Burt’s Bill and hope it marks the first step towards making her inclusive vision a reality.’
For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham via firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 7324 3000 or 07725 110 860.
Read our most recent article on the new Bill proposing to replace compulsory worship with inclusive assemblies.
Read our latest article on the Government saying it will ‘remind schools of their duty’ to carry out Christian collective worship.
Read our article on the UN Committee pressing the UK to repeal collective worship laws.
Read more about our work on collective worship.
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