In the past 18 months, more than 40 schools have requested exemptions from the legal requirement to provide a daily act of Christian worship, with many choosing for the first time “non-religious” or “multi-faith” alternatives.
A total of 46 schools since 2015 have requested to withdraw from an act of daily worship that is “entirely or primarily” of a Christian character, a rule in place since 1944.
The pace at which schools shy away from the requirement, often criticized by the laity, seems consistent with previous years.
Schools Week has previously reported that around 125 schools have applied for exemptions in the three years to 2015, an average of around 40 per year.
But FOI responses from 101 councils show that two schools have specifically asked to hold “faithless” assemblies.
Others have obtained the green light for “multi-faith” assemblies. Previously, schools typically used the exemption to switch to another religion.
The Three Towers student guidance unit in Wigan was granted an exemption on the condition that students participate in some form of collective worship such as “thinking exercises”.
Schools without a religious character should not be required to practice “totally inappropriate” Christian worship
Atheist groups have said the rise of “more inclusive assemblies” proves that most schools now consider an act of worship of one religion to be “inappropriate” for students.
But Nigel Genders, head of education at the Church of England, said the small number of schools that have opted for exemption from Christian worship showed that daily collective action had “proved to be a powerful tool. to bring the students together, giving them a rare opportunity to take a break ”.
Two schools in Coventry, including Frederick Bird Primary School, have asked its local board for “non-denominational” replacements for Christian worship. The request was made through its Permanent Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE).
The school did not respond to a request for comment, but a 2014 Ofsted report highlighted the school’s “family gatherings” as a strength.
Most of the students were from ethnic minorities, according to the report.
The other school, Holbrook Elementary, has opted for “non-religious” assemblies. Nearly half of the students were of Pakistani descent, according to an Ofsted report.
Seven schools in Brent, north London, six in Leicester and two in Oldham have called for “multi-faith” assemblies.
Jay Harman, spokesperson for the British Humanist Association, said schools without a religious character should not be required to practice “totally inappropriate” Christian worship.
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, chairman of the Accord coalition which campaigns against religious selection in schools, said the obligation to worship in one faith had caused the assemblies to “wither away”.
Instead, they should investigate ethical issues from a “variety of religious and philosophical traditions”.
But Genders said around a quarter of primary school students and one in 16 secondary school students attended Church of England schools, which showed parents were welcoming what was on offer, including Christian worship. day-to-day.
Ofsted stopped inspecting worship services in 2004 after 76 percent of schools were found to be non-compliant.