The law in England and Wales provides that children at all maintained schools "shall on each school day take part in an act of collective worship". In community schools, the worship must be wholly or mainly of a Christian character. In Academies and free schools the arrangements will depend on the funding agreement, which will usually have a compulsory worship element built in.
Britain is the only Western democracy to require worship in non-religious publicly funded schools.
The NSS believes that imposing compulsory worship by law is a violation of young people's rights. Furthermore, it is neither appropriate, nor practical for the State to impose compulsory worship on any citizen, whether adult or child.
We fully appreciate that school assemblies provide an excellent opportunity to bring members of a school together and create a sense of community; we recognise that assemblies with an ethical framework can make a vital contribution to school life. We do not however believe that it is appropriate to do so within a religious context.
What are we doing?
The National Secular Society has long campaigned for an end to compulsory worship in schools and uses every possible opportunity to challenge the existing legislation.
In 2006, the NSS won a hard fought campaign to ensure that sixth-form pupils at mainstream schools and maintained special schools were able withdraw themselves from collective worship, without the need for a parent's permission.
More recently we worked with Peers in the House of Lords to put down amendments to the Education Bill which would have made collective worship optional, rather than compulsory in schools.
Despite meeting with senior officials at the Department for Education (including the Minister of State for Schools) and making a compelling case for the removal of compulsory worship, the Government unfortunately opted to keep the current requirement.
While the requirement for collective worship is in place, we are calling for the immediate withdrawal of Circular 1/94 and a consultation on replacement guidance to be the subject of a consultation as soon as possible.