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Compulsory school worship undermines new curriculum, Wales Humanists tells Senedd Committee

The legal requirement for schools to carry out a daily act of Christian worship will undermine the aims of the new Curriculum for Wales and should be scrapped in favour of inclusive assemblies, Wales Humanists has told a Senedd committee.

The new Curriculum for Wales is due to come into force from 2022. It explicitly requires schools to teach about non-religious perspectives like humanism alongside world religions, in religion, values and ethics (RVE) lessons. This teaching must be done in an ‘objective, critical, and pluralistic’ way. But, in response to a consultation on the issues the Children, Young People, and Education Committee should prioritise over the new Senedd term, Wales Humanists said that the worship law will ‘impair the implementation’ of the RVE curriculum. This is because, by requiring Christian prayer, it ‘seeks to impose a particular religious perspective’ on pupils.

The UK is the only sovereign state in the world where Christian worship is imposed as standard in all schools, including those without a religious character. Parents are legally permitted to withdraw their children from these sessions, and in England and Wales, sixth-formers may withdraw themselves. But the process can be difficult and isolating, and withdrawn children are rarely provided with a meaningful alternative to worship. What’s more, according to a recent YouGov poll, most parents (65%) aren’t aware of the law. This makes it extremely unlikely they will be able to exercise their rights on the matter. When made aware of the law, 60% of parents think it shouldn’t be enforced.

Wales Humanists’ consultation response also highlighted the threat compulsory Christian worship poses to children’s rights. It also noted that the UN Children’s Rights Committee have called for the worship law to be repealed. The Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Act 2021 places a duty on schools to ‘promote knowledge and understanding of the UN Conventions on the rights of children and persons with disabilities’. It is therefore essential that the legal requirements imposed on schools do not violate children’s rights.

Last week, a Bill proposing to replace compulsory worship with inclusive assemblies that are suitable for pupils from all backgrounds regardless of religion or belief passed its second stage in the House of Lords. The majority of peers spoke in support of the change. However, if it were to become law, the Bill would only apply to England. For this reason, Wales Humanists are lobbying the Welsh Government to make a similar change in Wales.

Wales Humanists Coordinator Kathy Riddick commented:

‘By introducing the Curriculum and Assessment Bill, the Welsh Government has already acknowledged the importance of inclusive education about religion and belief. It has also committed to children’s rights by placing a duty on schools to promote knowledge and understanding of the UNCRC. But the outdated collective worship law actively undermines these positive steps by violating the freedom of religion or belief of children and their families.

‘We urge the Senedd’s Children, Young People, and Education Committee to press the Government to address this contradictory policy and replace compulsory worship with inclusive assemblies that are suitable for all children regardless of background.’

Notes:

For further comment or information in Wales, please contact Wales Humanists Coordinator Kathy Riddick via kathy@humanists.uk or phone 07881 625 378.

Read the consultation response.

Read our most recent article on the Second Reading of the Education (Assemblies) Bill.

Watch the Second Reading of the Education (Assemblies Bill).

Read the Education (Assemblies) Bill.

Read our article on the new poll finding majority of parents don’t think the collective worship law should be enforced.

Read our recent story on why new RVE guidance risks continuing exclusion of humanists.

Read our article on the UN Committee pressing the UK to repeal collective worship laws.

Read more about our work on collective worship.

In 2019, Humanists UK launched a groundbreaking resource hub called Assemblies for All, providing hundreds of free inclusive assemblies for schools.

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