Abolish compulsory acts of Christian worship and modernise RE in schools, say peers

19 January, 2024

Peers in the House of Lords yesterday called for the abolition of collective worship, and a rethink on Religious Education (RE) taught in schools, as part of a debate on the quality of RE in England. 

Humanists UK has welcomed these calls for reform. Suggestions included renaming the subject Religion and Worldviews, to clarify its purpose and be inclusive of humanism; to implement a national curriculum or national entitlement for RE; to end outdated requirements for mandatory worship.

Changing RE to Religion and Worldviews

Humanists UK has long campaigned for a curriculum that is inclusive of non-religious worldviews and continues to press the UK Government to implement the conclusions of the 2018 Commision for RE report to rename Religious Education to ‘Religion and Worldviews’.  Speaking in the debate Lord Warner of Brockley, a former Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) said ‘we should move to teach an independently devised, more broadly based national education curriculum on faith and non faith beliefs.’ 

Other contributions came from Baroness Meacher who called for religious education ‘fully inclusive of worldviews’, a call for humanism to be included in the curriculum by Baroness Twycross, and from Lord Storey who stressed the importance of young people ‘understand people of different faiths and those of no faiths’. Lord Griffiths of Burry Port extolled the need for religious education in schools to develop young people’s wider understanding of human kind.

Abolishing collective worship

Lord Warner also told the Grand Committee ‘we could and should abolish compulsory acts of Christian worship in schools’ and called on the House of Lords to lead by example and end the practice of parliamentary prayers. Humanists UK have successfully supported parents to challenge schools to provide alternative assemblies and recently contributed evidence to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) session which challenged the UK, Welsh and Northern Ireland governments for failing to uphold the children’s freedom of religion or belief due to their refusal to reform its policies on collective worship and religious education.   

Humanists UK’s Director of Policy and Public Affairs, Kathy Riddick said:

‘It’s great that the topic of patchy provision of RE across the country was discussed by peers, and that the majority agreed on the need for a more coherent national framework on RE. We particularly welcomed calls for RE to include non-religious worldviews like humanism, and for a curriculum to be more reflective of modern society. While we are pleased the Minister accepted that humanism should be taught in RE, there is no national syllabus and no legislation for schools to follow. We would call on the Department for Education to issue guidance to all schools on this matter.

‘The debate showed the level of support for abolition of outdated collective worship in schools. It is time for the UK Government to take action and replace this requirement with inclusive assemblies.’

End collective worship
Daily acts of Christian worship are a legal requirement for all schools in England and Wales. We think children should have inclusive assemblies by default, not prayer. Agree?

Notes

For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Kathy Riddick at press@humanists.uk or phone 07534 248 596.

Read more about our work on religious education and collective worship.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 120,000 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.