Most school leaders disagree with law on worship, poll finds

The Government is under pressure to repeal the law requiring collective worship in schools after polling indicated most senior teachers disagree with the law, and most schools ignore it.

A poll of around 2,000 senior leaders at primary and secondary schools in England found 70% “disagree” or “strongly disagree” with the law requiring all schools to hold daily acts of collective worship. In schools without a religious character, the law states the worship must be “wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character”.

Just 12% of senior leaders support the current law.

The figures, from a Teacher Tapp survey commissioned by the National Secular Society, were broadly similar for senior leaders at schools with and without a religious character.

The NSS has also obtained previously unreleased polling from Teacher Tapp, which reveals 66% of teachers say their school does not hold collective worship. This includes 79% of teachers at schools without a religious character, and 11% at faith schools. Most teachers who say they do not hold collective worship are at secondary schools (84%).

These figures are from a 2022 survey of over 7,600 school teachers.

The NSS has urged the Government to “recognise the divisive and deeply unpopular nature” of the collective worship law and repeal it.

NSS tells education secretary: imposing worship adds to ‘religious tension’

Official guidance on the law says collective worship “should be concerned with reverence or veneration paid to a divine being or power”.

In a letter to Secretary of State for Education Gillian Keegan, the NSS said the issue of religious practice in schools is “becoming increasingly fraught”, and imposing worship on pupils “unnecessarily adds to this tension”.

Last month the High Court ruled that Michaela Community School in Wembley acted lawfully when it restricted prayer rituals in the schoolyard following concerns around bullying, threats to the school and its staff, and divisions between pupils from different backgrounds.

But Keegan’s reply said that despite the findings indicating most schools are ignoring the law, “I maintain that collective worship is an important part of school life”.

The Government has suggested that schools which are “in breach” of the collective worship requirement will be “investigated”.

The Government has also claimed schools “are able to tailor” their collective worship provision “to suit their pupils’ needs”. The NSS disputes this, saying many schools which have attempted to replace collective worship with secular assemblies have been blocked.

A recent investigation by Schools Week revealed that in place of an act of Christian worship, a growing number of schools are replacing Christian worship with multifaith assemblies or assemblies about secular topics such as ‘mindfulness’ or the environment.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union the NAHT, said: “The current law, which dictates that daily acts of collective acts of worship should be wholly, or mainly of a Christian character, must be removed.

“School leaders know the benefits of bringing children together, for example in an assembly, to share values and experiences.

“But they must be given the flexibility to develop an approach that works best for their school supporting and upholding the values of their unique community.”

The 2021 census found Christians are a minority in England and Wales for the first time.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has repeatedly called for collective worship laws in the UK to be repealed.

National Secular Society: ‘Dead letter law should be repealed’

NSS chief executive Stephen Evans said: “There is a clear consensus among school leaders that compulsory collective worship has no place in 21st century schools.

“Our population is more irreligious and religiously diverse than ever before. It is therefore unsurprising many teachers find imposing worship on children objectionable and unconducive to a pluralistic and cohesive learning environment.

“It’s high time legislators recognised the dead letter nature of this obsolete law and repealed it.”

Media coverage:
The Evening Standard – More than two in three leaders do not support collective worship law in schools
Tes Magazine – Daily worship in schools opposed by most leaders, survey finds

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