A landmark Bill seeking to overhaul the law on school assemblies has been introduced in the House of Commons. The Education (Assemblies) Bill, which recently completed its passage through the House of Lords, was originally tabled by Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) Baroness Burt, a Liberal Democrat. It has now been picked up in the House of Commons by APPHG Chair, Crispin Blunt MP, a Conservative. The Bill proposes to replace compulsory Christian worship with inclusive assemblies in English schools without a religious character.
All state schools in England and Wales, including those without a religious character, are legally required to carry out a daily act of worship. Outside of faith schools, this worship must be ‘broadly Christian’ in nature. There are similar requirements in Northern Ireland and Scotland. But the UK is the only sovereign state in the world to mandate Christian worship in all state-funded schools. 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. The process is often difficult and no meaningful alternative to worship is offered in the vast majority of schools.
The Bill proposes to remove the requirement for schools without a religious character in England to hold collective worship. Instead, they will have to hold inclusive assemblies that are suitable for all children regardless of their religion or belief. These assemblies could cover religion, but not in a way that presents any particular religion or belief as true. The Bill does not propose to alter the requirement that worship takes place in faith schools. However, it does specify that children who have been withdrawn from worship must be provided with a meaningful educational alternative. This alternative must be in line with the assembly provision in other schools.
Chair of the APPHG Crispin Blunt MP commented:
‘I am delighted to take the Education (Assemblies) Bill forward into the Commons. I pay tribute to the hard work of Baroness Burt and Humanists UK in bringing it this far. I look forward to engaging with my fellow MPs on the importance of introducing inclusive assemblies in our schools.’
The Bill is now scheduled to have its second reading on 14 January, but there are a large number of other bills scheduled to have their second readings earlier on the same day. It is therefore quite unlikely that the Bill will progress on that date.
For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Education Policy Researcher Dr Ruth Wareham via firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 7324 3000 or 07725 110 860.
Visit the Bill webpage on the Parliament website.
Read our latest article on the Bill completing its passage through the House of Lords.
Read our article on the poll finding the majority of parents don’t think the collective worship law should be enforced.
Read our 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.
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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