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Keep it Christian

Most heads want religious focus to remain in school assembly

AN OVERWHELMING majority of headteachers do not believe that the traditional Christian focus of the school assembly should change, the results of a TES Cymru survey reveal this week.

We contacted a selection of non-faith schools from city and rural areas of Wales to find out if they believed that the daily act of worship should become multi-faith, rather than Christian, by law.

Of the 30 replies 18 from primary and 12 from secondary schools all said that the status quo should remain, although many schools said they had made moves to cater for other religious beliefs in line with changes in the ethnic make up of Britain.

It was apparent there was not much difference in opinion between schools in different demographic locations and between those with vastly different ethnic-minority populations.

It is also obvious from the heads who replied that 15-20 minutes, the traditional time allocated to daily worship, is generally considered too long, with many admitting to having cut it down to just 10 minutes in recent years.

We conducted the survey following comments made by Liberal Democrat AM Peter Black last month that Christian-based assemblies were out of touch with 21st century Britain.

This week Mr Black, who has since been replaced as the party's official education spokesperson by colleague Kirsty Williams, said he was likely to lobby the Senedd for a new Wales-only law, possible under powers granted in the 2006 Government of Wales Act, to remove the Christian proviso.

This week he had the backing of racial equality leaders surveyed by TES Cymru.

At present, Christian-based assemblies are a legal requirement of the 1988 Education Reform Act. The Act states the school assembly should be "wholly or mainly Christian". Mr Black says a more appropriate assembly for today would focus on educating children about the differences between all faiths, removing the Christian base.

But this angered Sian Roberts, head of Allensbank Primary in Galbalfa, Cardiff. She said: "We embrace multi-faith worship by trying to bring that into our assemblies we have a wide range of culture and ethnicity within the school. But I feel strongly that our Christian faith should not be eroded."

Ifor Evans, head of Ysgol Dyffryn Conwy in Llanrwst, Conwy, said: "We'd like to keep the Christian flavour but we are changing the focus slightly to talk more about overall morality, knowing the difference between right and wrong."

Cardiff's Fitzalan High School has the highest percentage of multi-ethnic pupils in a Welsh secondary but still keeps a high Christian focus.

"We have a number of speakers who tend to be Christians, but we also hold special assemblies sometimes for other faiths," said Mr Huw Jones Williams.

Heather Vaughan, head of St Woolos Primary School in Newport, keeps the Christian content but said: "We make it clear pupils should pray to their own god because it's important to have a faith, whatever it is."

At Sea View Community Primary in Mayhill, Swansea, the Friday assembly is used to praise students for good behaviour and work instead of having a religious focus a move encouraged by head Susie Ralph.

Gareth Rees, head of Tumble Primary School in the Gwendraeth Valley, Carmarthenshire, would prefer to cut weekly assemblies to just three.

He said: "We know they are only supposed to be between 15 and 20 minutes a day but by the time the children get in and out of class it takes half an hour. Our services are Christian, we do not have children from other faiths."

Julie Griffiths, head of Ysgol Tregib in Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire, said the assemblies were Christian-based and there were no plans to change.

"We have some children who do not want to take part because they are Jehovah's Witnesses but they can opt out," she said.

Gwenda Pringle, head of Ysgol Bod Alaw in Colwyn Bay, said she was happy with the current legal standing. She said: "We do whatever is recommended by our local authority."

The school assembly has also come under criticism by inspection body Estyn, which has previously claimed that the daily act of worship remains a "weak part in many schools".

In the February 2007 report Values education: an evaluation of provision for education for the promotion of social responsibility and respect for others, it says that schools should use assemblies to promote social responsibility, tolerance and understanding of other cultures.

It says schools should plan an annual programme, making links between assemblies, personal and social education and RE.

"Inspectors judge the quality of each collective worship in its own right," Estyn said this week.

Leader, page 28

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