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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Your rights: Withdrawal from RE and Collective Worship

We advocate comprehensive reform of religious education and an end to compulsory worship in schools. However, because of the Government's preoccupation with religion, our campaigns are unlikely to succeed in the short-term.

Parents therefore need to consider the best option currently available, however unsatisfactory. Withdrawal is one possibility.

The law in Scotland is covered in the Education (Scotland) Act 1980. The Scottish Executive's policy on the provision of religious observance in Scottish schools in contained in Circular 1/2005. Also relevant is the Scottish Executive's 2011 letter to the headteachers of all schools which includes reminding them of the right to withdraw and schools' responsibility to facilitate this.

On the subject Citizens Advice (Scotland) notes:

"If you do withdraw your child from religious observation or education, the school must make suitable arrangements for your child to take part in a worthwhile alternative activity. In no circumstances should a child be disadvantaged as a result of withdrawing from religious observation or education."

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. Parents are not obliged to give a reason for requesting withdrawal.

The parental right to withdraw a child should be freely exercisable and the school must give effect to any such request.

Currently, very few parents exercise this right. Many parents are reluctant to separate their child from classmates. Also, while schools are supposed to keep worship separate from other elements of assembly, many schools fail to do this, and parents may not wish for their child to miss the entire assembly.

Before exercising any right of withdrawal we would recommend discussing your concerns with the Head Teacher.

Requests for withdrawals are best made in writing, the simple text below should be perfectly adequate.

As parents of [Child's name] we formally request that he/she is withdrawn from worship/RE of any kind in future, without any detriment.

If you experience any difficulty or obstruction in exercising your right of withdrawal, or have any specific concerns about RE or Collective Worship in a particular school, we would like to hear from you.

Sixth Form Pupils

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.