School’s application for non-Christian assemblies denied
Posted: Tue, 23rd Aug 2022
The National Secular Society has called for an end to laws requiring Christian worship in schools after a school's application to remove the provision was denied.
Poulner Infant School in Hampshire said it was not appropriate for its collective worship to be Christian in character as two thirds of parents do not identify as Christian.
State-funded schools are required by law to hold daily acts of collective worship, which must be "wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character".
However, under Department for Education guidance, schools may also apply for a 'determination' - an exemption from the requirement that collective worship be of a Christian character. Headteachers may apply for a determination if they judge this mandated character of collective worship to be in conflict with the family backgrounds of pupils.
As part of their submission to the local authority's Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE) - the committees responsible for assessing determinations - the school argued an exemption was necessary in order to enable the school to deliver broader and more inclusive assemblies.
The school noted that whilst it felt collective worship was valuable, its provision should be "reflective of the beliefs of the children here".
It said parents who have no religion are "actually the largest single group" and many parents purposefully seek out Poulner Infant School as alternative to nearby faith schools.
The school also said the current requirements breached the human rights of its pupils, citing "the rights respecting approach promoted by The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child". The UK is the only western democracy which legally imposes worship in schools - a position which has been challenged by the UNCRC.
In a meeting in July, Hampshire County Council's SACRE denied the school's application for exemption, judging the requirements on the character of collective worship to be appropriate because a third of parents identify as Christian.
Just under half the SACRE's members are appointed as representatives of religious denominations.
The SACRE also said it was unaware of any of other decisions by councils to allow nonreligious schools an exemption from collective worship, and that any such approval could only be granted by parliament. Although uncommon, schools have tried to challenge aspects of the law regarding collective worship in the past, including the requirements for such provision to be of a specifically Christian character.
NSS: "A pressing need to end our outdated laws on collective worship in schools"
Jack Rivington, Campaigns Officer at the NSS said: "This case highlights the pressing need to end our outdated laws on collective worship in schools.
"By compelling schools to hold acts of religious worship the UK is failing to uphold the rights of freedom of religion or belief for our children. Compelled Christian worship is totally inappropriate in a pluralistic society made up of peoples of many different faiths and none.
"We call on the government to urgently scrap the laws on collective worship to ensure the human rights of all citizens are respected."
Image: Jandrie Lombard, Shutterstock