Teachers in the UK have branded the legal requirement for religious assemblies “archaic” since the release of the UK census results.
Under exiting legislation, state schools must provide an act of “collective worship” that is “broadly Christian” every day. However, for the very first time, the UK census revealed that England is no longer predominantly Christian. The 2021 results showed that less than half of the population in England and Wales described themselves as Christian.
Education professionals across the country have commented on the findings and how schools should proceed in the future. Nikki McGee, lead teacher on religious education for the Inspiration trust, which runs 18 schools in Norfolk, said:
The collective worship is pretty much meaningless in schools that are not faith based. The census results show it is archaic.
Nikki McGee, R.E teacher for the Inspiration trust
Prof Russell Sandberg, law and religion expert at Cardiff University, has commented that the legal requirement is discriminative:
The legal framework is stuck in the 1940s. The census underlines that requiring a daily act of worship is utterly archaic and discriminatory.
Prof Russell Sandberg, law and religion expert at Cardiff University
In 1944, it became the law for students in the UK to study religious education and participate in collective worship. Since then, parents and sixth formers have the option to opt out of these, however, many education leaders believe a rethink altogether is now due.
Mark Shepstone, assistant head at Bungay high school in Suffolk, said that many schools are already ignoring this legal requirement and is pushing for the government to drop it altogether. Shepstone highlights how he can count on one hand the number of Christian assemblies he had seen in 15 years, and draws attention to the unfair impact they can have on children. He comments:
In the schools I have worked in since 2007, there’s never been a daily act of collective worship. We still do assemblies and they will often have a moral message, but they aren’t daily.
There is a squeamishness in Westminster about discussing it because of the historical power of religion, but the law breaches children’s human rights because they have no choice.
Mark Shepstone, assistant head at Bungay high school
With this being said, a spokesperson for the Department for Education confirmed that they are currently no plans to review this law. She said:
Collective worship encourages pupils to reflect on the concept of belief and the role it plays in society. Schools are able to tailor their provision to suit their pupils’ needs.
Spokesperson for the Department for Education
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