Opinion | Thu, 10 Mar 2016
Collective worship has its history in a murky compromise between politicians and the church dating back to the Second World War – and it is long since time the arcane requirement was removed, writes Ed Moore.
There is a growing consensus among educators, parents and academics that Collective Worship in schools should be abolished.
The debate was opened up again recently with the Wolf Institute's "Report of the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life" which clearly came out against, calling for the legal requirement for schools to hold acts of collective worship to be repealed.
But how many people know why we ever came to have this law in the first place?
The first law introducing mandatory collective worship was the famous 1944 Education Act, introduced by President of the Board of Education Rab Butler and receiving Royal Assent on 3 August 1944. This Act, passed while the Second World War was still being fought, was the largest piece of 'home' legislation brought forward by the Coalition Government. The Act specifies that "the school day in every county school and in every voluntary school shall begin with collective worship on the part of all pupils in attendance at the school".
"The arrangements made therefor shall provide for a single act of worship attended by all such pupils," it adds.
School Worship was now mandatory, but this provision wasn't the most important part of the Act. Religious Education covered only 6 of the 120 clauses; the rest contained the real meat, a complete overhaul of the education system. Among the radical measures introduced were free education for all, an increase in the school leaving age to fifteen (and later sixteen), the tripartite system of grammar, secondary modern and technical schools, and the 11-plus exam which directed children from primary to secondary education. As David Bell, the Chief Inspector of schools said in 2004, "As history has since shown, the act profoundly influenced the education system for decades to come."
While it could be considered strange that such a landmark piece of legislation should appear in wartime in fact it may be the case that it could only have appeared in such circumstances. The wartime Coalition Government meant party politics had been put aside. The mixing of the classes had broken down the rigid social order and mass evacuations of children to the countryside had revealed the shocking deprivation in the cities. These circumstances did not produce only the desire to change education, they produced the resolve to overcome the entrenched interests holding back progress; the churches.
No bill is ever brought to parliament without years of preparation and the 1944 Education Act was no exception. The work started in November 1940 in Bournemouth to where the civil servants of the Board of Education had been evacuated. Pressure had been growing to resolve the problems of education in the country and this was an opportunity to work through the issues away from the pressures of London. In their deliberations the pattern of future secondary education was quickly established – raising of the leaving age to 16, free schooling, moving to secondary education at 11 but an intractable problem to overcome remained: How to deal with the church schools?
At the outbreak of war the school system was made up of 10,363 council schools with 3,151,000 pupils and 10,533 'voluntary' church schools educating 1,374,000 pupils. This Dual System of schooling gave rise to endless complications in administration that had to be managed within the broad scheme of reform. Local Education Authorities had to pay for the 'fair wear and tear' of voluntary schools yet the managers of these schools had to pay for alterations and improvements which they were frequently unable to afford. Most voluntary schools were in old buildings, few had adequate support from church collections and even fewer could afford modern standards of ventilation and hygiene. An earlier education review had required children of eleven and over to be in dedicated Senior Schools or departments yet while 62% of Council School pupils had been reorganised only 16% had in voluntary schools. What was to be done to enable reconstruction? Perhaps the churches themselves had constructive suggestions?
On the 12 February 1941 a statement on improving education did indeed come, jointly, from the Archbishops of Canterbury, York and Wales. The 'Five Points' letter to The Times recommended … more religion.
"There is an ever-deepening conviction that in this present struggle we are fighting to preserve those elements in human civilization and in our own national tradition which owe their origin to Christian faith. Yet we find on every side profound ignorance of the Christian faith itself," the Archbishops argued at the time.
"We urge that in all schools the timetable should be so arranged as to provide for an act of worship on the part of the whole school at the beginning of the school day".
No mention was made of the difficulties in paying for school improvements, or how to reorganise the dual system. What did the committee of the Board of Education make of this? When their recommendations, in "Education After the War", were finally published on 13 May 1941, in what became known as the Green Book, it said among the 141 clauses: "At the present time in provided schools, while it is the almost universal practice to have undenominational religious observance and instruction, such instruction is required neither by statute nor by regulation."
The Green Book argued that, "There is a growing volume of opinion that the time has come when the place of religion as an essential element in education should be specifically recognised. It is accordingly suggested that there should be religious observance and instruction enjoined by statute in all provided Primary and Secondary Schools."
This document thus became the first official government record proposing legislation on collective worship in schools. Why was it there? For the answer we go back to file ED 138/22 in the National Archives. The file contains several papers explaining how the Green Book was decided on and in the paper "The Green Book and the Problem of the Dual System and Religious Instruction in Schools" we find:
"Thus, the Green Book proposed to meet as far as possible, the extended claim of the Churches in the matter of religious instruction in schools as expressed in the Archbishop's letter of February 12, 1941, and in return for this and extended financial assistance to non-provided schools to secure extended public control over non-provided schools."
Collective Worship would become a legal requirement in all supported schools. In exchange the Government would gain the control needed over church schools to carry out the desperately needed reforms.
Was this the final settlement? Of course not. The appointment of Rab Butler as the President of the Board of Education on 29 July 1941 started the process of negotiation and it continued through the White Paper "Educational Reconstruction" published on 16 July 1943 right up until the law was passed. Against the Government were the Church of England, the Nonconformists and the Roman Catholics, sometimes combined and sometimes fighting their own corners. Yet in the end a compromise was reached and the law passed.
How did the politicians behind the bill view the church leaders during this process? The last word goes to Winston Churchill, as recorded by James Chuter Ede, the Board of Education Parliamentary Secretary, in his diary on Tuesday 13 July 1943: "The P.M. said that if there was trouble over the religious settlement he would be in favour of telling the House exactly what the malcontents were getting out of the scheme, and then leave the decision to the free vote of the House on the understanding that if the scheme were defeated this, the most generous example of religious toleration in the history of the world, would be destroyed & the great measure of educational advance with it!"
So should we call Collective Worship a bribe? We have a legal requirement today only because the churches exchanged total control over education in their own schools for more religious influence in all schools.
Time for it to go.
Opinion | Tue, 08 Mar 2016
Muslim women are no different to their Western sisters who fought their battle for equality decades ago, writes Aisha Nabi. Muslim women are fighting the same evil as Western sisters are today – sexism, but what is the best way of achieving gender equality?
Last August, a group of women in Bradford launched a consultation, on what seems at first glance an innovative and radical proposal: the establishment of a mosque run for and by women. At a time when Islam is perpetually challenged on gender equality issues, the mosque is a stepping stone to empowering women as equals in Muslim society. But this alone won't be enough.
Bana Gora and her team at the Muslim Women's Council (WMC) proposed a mosque for all community groups and religious sects, including Sunni and Shia Muslims. The liberal literati often complain that the upper echelons of British society are controlled by white, middle class, middle-aged Protestant men. Less known is that the management committees of most mosques consist of elderly men who live in the UK, but emotionally reside in rural Bangladesh or Pakistan. This conservative, agrarian, third world mind set, riven with cultural and sexual prejudices is ill-equipped to cope with the challenges of an urban multi-cultural society.
In their cultural paradigm, the role of women is to fulfil their duties as a good wife and mother - 'stay-at-home mums' or 'house-makers'. Modern women have other goals. A disconnect between so-called community leaders and the younger population causes tremendous tensions, that can fuel radicalisation in a search for an alternative.
"The alienation that women feel has profound consequences for younger generations who are taught that Islam treats both men and women as spiritual equals… the practice within mosques contradicts the principles," Bana Gora told the Guardian .
Encouraging women to become socially active within the Muslim community will enable them to become vigilant for any signs of radicalisation within family or peer groups and empower them to voice concerns. Educational programs for women in English, such as the Prime Minister's recent £20 million initiative, can open opportunities for more effective integration in British society. But efforts to improve the role of women must also come from Muslim communities themselves.
A mosque, in the traditional Islamic sense, is not simply a place of prayer. It is intended as a community hub, a meeting place to discuss ideas and solve problems. Gora's female mosque will host surgeries and support groups to tackle domestic violence, divorce, bereavement, parenting and legal advice. For Gora, it is crucial women do not feel isolated, but rather are respected and encouraged to express themselves. A weekly women's social circle event will provide a forum for women to practice English, to discuss the challenges of modernity, advance their independence, solidify their identity, and raise awareness of current affairs.
Uzami Kazi, a 29-year-old community artist, commented in the Guardian, "There's lots of myths about women going to mosques, and what they can and can't do there, so education is really important",and added,"I really hope [the mosque] can be a safe space for 'me time', sharing wisdom and space to explore challenging things in the community, as well as celebrating the good times."
In some respects, however, women continue to take a back seat to male religious leaders. A male imam will still lead prayers, even though Islam imposes no stricture on the gender of its imams. The Prophet's wives Aisha Siddiqa and Umm Salama led prayers. Yet in Islam, as in Catholicism with male priests leading convents, men continue to be viewed as the most authentic spiritual leaders. In allowing a male imam to oversee the spiritual needs of its female constituency, the mosque's organising committee falls victim to the very cultural traditions it wishes to challenge.
A healthy dose of scepticism of initiatives for female emancipation is advised. Generations of male cultural interpretation have enshrined a rigid segregation of sexes within Islam. Some initiatives reinforce this.
Last week, Pakistan announced an initiative that will allow female doctors to consult patients online. Although hailed as a fantastic project, permitting many female doctors (whose husbands and family discourage full-time work) to practice and providing millions of women easier access to healthcare, the initiative overlooks the core issue – that the majority of students in Pakistani medical schools are female, yet most do not pursue a full-time medical career. A poor country like Pakistan can ill-afford such profligacy. Rather than treating the symptom, surely we should be looking at the root cause of the problem: institutionalised misogyny.
In this regard, Muslim women are fundamentally no different to their Western sisters who fought their battle for equality decades ago. In fact, Muslim women are fighting the same evil as Western sisters are today – sexism.
Endeavors such as Gora's female-managed mosque and 'The Inclusive Mosque Initiative' – which welcomes former Muslims to examine identity issues and the multiplicity of Muslim culture – can allow underrepresented community members to express themselves and seek solidarity. But they are only the beginning. According to Lindsay Beyerstein, the main religious argument for male supremacy narrows down to the assertion that men's superior position in society is somehow ordained by God. In the Christian origin myth, man was created in the image of God and woman was created in the image of man as his handmaiden and helpmate. This is what philosophers call a teleological argument: Women should serve men because that's what God made them for. Without God, the argument fails. Similarly, misinterpretations of Islam can often fall in this same deception.
So, why should the secular movement concern itself with feminism? For one thing, organized religions have been, and continue to be, a major source of female oppression. Opposing sexism is already de rigueur in organized atheism as long as criticism is directed toward religious bigots.
As long as religious bigots still coexist in today's modern age, it still remains a current and problematic area in terms of gender equality.
Aisha Nabi is a Researcher at the Quilliam Foundation, the world's first counter-extremism think tank. The views expressed in our blogs are those of the author and may not represent the views of the NSS.
News | Thu, 10 Mar 2016
Former BBC presenter Iain Lee has said he is "flabbergasted" after the BBC Trust ruled his interview with a Christian campaigner was a "serious breach" of editorial guidelines.
In the interview, which took place in November 2015, Lee was in discussion with Libby Powell, a lawyer for Christian Concern, discussing the case of a prison worker who faced disciplinary action for reading anti-gay verses from the Bible during a sermon. Christian Concern had taken up the man's case and Lee challenged Powell over whether the anti-gay remarks were bigoted and homophobic.
Powell said that she thought homosexuality was sinful and that all her client had done was "dare to speak the Bible".
Lee then asked her if she supported the bigotry and Powell replied that it was not bigotry but "God's word."
"Homophobia is bigotry," Lee countered, in a heated exchange. After reading out anti-gay verses from the Bible himself, Lee said that the words, read by the prison worker during a sermon he had delivered, were bigoted.
The BBC Trust ruled that "the interviewees were not treated with respect but instead faced significant personal criticism and challenge and that, overall, the tone of the interviews was inappropriate.
"The Trustees considered that the presenter should have been able to robustly and properly challenge the interviewees without recourse to personal attack and without taking a personal position on it.
"They noted that a final interviewee from the Gay and Lesbian Christian Movement was able to challenge the views of the two previous interviewees in a manner that was measured and productive."
The report also noted that "the presenter regretted that he might have appeared to be opposed to Christianity, or religion generally, when this was not the case."
Ofcom had received six complaints about the interview but took no action.
As a result of the controversy around the interview the BBC "produced a face to face training programme for presenters and their programme teams that would be rolled out across the BBC's local radio services".