The number of schools requesting to evade legal requirements to provide a daily act of Christian worship appears to be slowing, but more are choosing instead to offer “multi-faith” alternatives.
Of the 48 schools that have asked their Local Permanent Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE) to withdraw from the act of daily worship in the past three years, 42 have succeeded.
The determinations allow schools to change their collective worship to be “wholly or largely” Christian in nature, a rule that has been in place since 1944.
Most schools that have called for determinations in the past three school years have called instead for “multi-faith” assemblies, which Reverend Stephen Terry, chair of the Accord Coalition (an organization that campaigns for l inclusive education), said it was “encouraging”.
“This indicates that educators take seriously the growing diversity of cultural traditions present in modern British society.”
Of the 134 local authorities that responded to an access to information request from School week, 12 had received requests from schools in the past three years to change their collective worship.
Holbrook Elementary School in Coventry was the only school among the 42 to have opted for faithless assemblies.
Meanwhile, the Plashet School in Newham was allowed to hold a combination of alternative, multi-faith, and faithless elements of faith throughout each week.
Brent Council granted the most decisions – 11. Next came Camden Council and Bradford Council, both of which granted seven.
But the number of schools requesting determinations appears to be declining
School week indicated that an average of 40 applications were filed per year between 2013 and 2015.
One of the reasons for the decline in applications for local SACRE councils could be the increase in the number of academies, which must apply directly to the Ministry of Education for determinations.
The actual number of schools requesting determinations is therefore likely to be higher.
But Reverend Nigel Genders, Education Officer for the Church of England, said: “The fact that only 42 out of 25,000 schools have done so suggests that schools are able to work within the broad definitions. that exist in the law. ”
Mr Genders added that the law allows schools to request a determination “reflecting the local school context”.
The Catholic Education Service said collective worship is an “essential part of the life of every school” and can also provide a “shared language of values to build a tight-knit community.”
A survey commissioned by campaign group Humanists UK earlier this year found that less than a third of people think acts of worship, such as prayers, are appropriate for school assemblies.
Accord Coalition said the legal requirement for collective worship is “unsustainable in a culturally diverse society”, adding that the current law is “not suited to its purpose.”
Alastair Lichten, head of education at the National Secular Society, said the results are “yet another reason for ministers to repeal the requirement for schools to hold acts of worship and ensure that everything worship is truly voluntary ”.
“Many schools already hold inclusive ethical assemblies which may provide space for voluntary worship but do not lead it. “
Parents can withdraw their students from collective worship. But that rule is about to be reviewed after parents launched a legal challenge against Burford Primary School in Oxfordshire.
Parents Lee and Lizanne Harris have withdrawn their children from school church assemblies, but say no meaningful alternative education has been provided.
The Department of Education has previously said that collective worship “encourages students to reflect on the concept of belief and helps shape the core British values of tolerance, respect and understanding of others”.
In 2004, Ofsted stopped inspecting collective worship after 76 percent of schools were found not to follow the practice.