Revealed: Schools seeking opt-outs from obligated Christian worship

Posted: Fri, 3rd May 2024

Mandatory Christianity in worship is being replaced by mindfulness and environmental awareness at a growing number of schools.

Revealed: Schools seeking opt-outs from obligated Christian worship

Seventy schools have been granted exemptions from the legal requirement to provide Christian worship since 2018, new research has found.

An investigation by Schools Week revealed that in place of an act of Christian worship, some schools now teach pupils about "looking after the planet" and mindfulness instead. Other schools are replacing Christian worship with multifaith assemblies.

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.

When granted, determinations last for five years, but schools must still provide an alternative form of collective daily worship.

In a letter to the National Secular Society this year, Academies Minister Baroness Barran confirmed this means it is "not permissible for an exemption to be granted" replacing collective worship with "non-religious assemblies".

This was also demonstrated in 2022 by the case of Poulner Infant School, whose application for a determination was denied by Hampshire County Council's Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE).

Despite the school having no faith character, nonreligious families making up the largest single group, and two-thirds of parents not identifying as Christian, the SACRE said was Christian worship was appropriate for the school.

According to figures obtained by Schools Week via freedom of information requests, 23 academies and 46 local authority maintained schools have sought an exemption since 2018.

However, the true number of schools which have applied for an exemption may be much higher, as many councils did not hold the relevant data.

Despite just 26% of the public believing that school assemblies should feature religious worship, the Government says it has "no plans to review its policy on collective worship".

NSS: 'No place for mandated worship in modern education"

NSS chief executive Stephen Evans said: "Laws mandating worship have no place in a modern education system.

"Assemblies can be useful in transmitting shared values and promoting pupils' spiritual, moral and cultural development, but compelling schools to hold religious worship is neither helpful nor desirable in achieving this aim.

"The obligation should be removed from school leaders, who increasingly recognise that imposing Christian worship is totally inappropriate in their religiously diverse and largely nonreligious school communities."

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Tags: Collective worship