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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Collective worship and the law

In community schools, the law states the worship must be 'wholly or mainly of a Christian character'. In foundation and voluntary schools with a religious character, the act of worship must be undertaken in accordance with the Trust Deeds but will focus on the religion of the school as to practice.

For England and Wales, the main provisions concerning collective worship can be found in sections 70 and 71 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.

In England and Wales Parents have the statutory right under Section 71 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 to withdraw their children from RE lessons and acts of collective worship at all maintained schools, including faith schools.

Sixth-form pupils at mainstream schools and maintained special schools are able withdraw themselves from collective worship, without the need for a parent's permission. Section 55 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 amended section 71 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 to ensure the right of sixth-form pupils to be excused from attendance at religious worship if they request so. The NSS were instrumental in securing this right for young people.

While the above legislation does not apply to academies and free schools, such schools are usually contractually bound to honour the right to withdraw through their funding agreements.

The law on collective worship in schools is clarified by non-statutory guidance Despite being published in January 1994, Circular 1/94 remains the most up to date guidance for schools. The guidance states:

"'Worship is not defined in the legislation and in the absence of any such definition it should be taken to have its natural and ordinary meaning. That is, it must in some sense reflect something special or separate from ordinary school activities and it should be concerned with reverence or veneration paid to a divine being or power."