Many state schools in England are not providing group worship, despite legislation making it a requirement. The Comres survey for BBC local radio found 64% of the 500 parents questioned said their child did not attend daily acts of collective worship. But 60% of the 1,743 adults asked said the legislation should not be enforced.
Some schools were opting to teach pupils about community rather than religion, said educationalists. The Department for Education states that all maintained schools in England must provide a daily act of collective worship which must reflect the traditions of this country, which it says are, in the main, broadly Christian.
Parents have the right to withdraw their child from the daily act of collective worship and sixth-formers can decide for themselves whether or not to attend.
Comres spoke to 1,743 adults during the survey, including 500 parents, and found 60% believe the daily act of collective worship should not be enforced.
The Bishop of Oxford, the Right Reverend John Pritchard, said doing daily worship in schools was an “important statement”.
“What we believe as a country is important in the education of our young people, so I think it is an important statement that the country makes to its schools and says will you please do this. If schools refuse to do that, or fail to, then I think they need to be encouraged to do it, I wouldn’t use the word enforced though at all.”
The National Secular Society said group worship amounted to a breach of human rights. In a statement the group said:
“England is the only country in the western world to enforce participation in daily worship in community schools. To do so goes beyond the legitimate function of the state and is an abuse of children’s human rights, especially those who are old enough to make decisions for themselves.”
A spokesman for the Church of England said the law stated schools provide collective worship and the church supported that. He said:
“It provides an important chance for the school to focus on promoting the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of its pupils. Collective worship is when pupils of all faiths and none come together to reflect – it should not be confused with corporate worship when everyone is of the same belief.”
Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) chief policy advisor Alison Ryan questioned how much schools and parents wanted daily worship.
“People are concerned about inclusivity, how much is it wanted by parents, pupils or even the staff themselves? When a law is being flouted on a pretty major scale that is telling you something about its use, about how maybe it should be reformed or changed, so we believe it needs to be looked at.”
The National Association of Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education (NASACRE) advises schools on daily collective worship. Bruce Gill, from the association, said school assemblies did not have to be church-led, but could teach about community and responsibility.
“It’s an important role in these times when we are worried about community values and people’s sense of community. We try to get people to look beyond the materialistic life and material gratification and I think we will regret it greatly if we continue the trend of losing it.”