Law on worship is unworkable, say councils

Clare Dean & Katie Stones

The Government is under pressure to review the law on collective worship amid claims from the official bodies responsible for religious education that it is unworkable.

Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education are considering proposals for fewer acts of collective worship. They say many schools are failing to hold daily assemblies because they do not have the space to gather all pupils in one room.

They are also concerned about the content of assemblies. "It is ridiculous for a daily act of worship to have to be primarily Christian in a multi-ethnic area," said John Fairley-Churchill, chair of the Redbridge SACRE.

Graham Fordyce, chair of Northamptonshire SACRE, said: "Some teachers are not keen to take assemblies. It is often a question of finding people to put across assemblies that mean something to the children."

Northamptonshire SACRE believes that the daily act of collective worship is unworkable in many schools and that there is a danger of the law being brought into disrepute.

Mike Sneath, its vice-chair, says Wollaston school in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, where he is a governor breaks the law. "We don't like to break the law, but there is not enough space in the school for us to hold a daily act of collective worship."

Northamptonshire wants the Government to review the law with a view to making it more flexible by calling for a regular, rather than a daily, act of collective worship.

Somerset and Norfolk SACREs are also pushing for change. "We're saying, give people a chance to do the thing better," said Derek Esp, chair of the Somerset group and a registered inspector. "Almost all schools I've inspected in the past three years have not complied with the requirements although I've seen some superb work in worship."

The Rev Bert Cadmore, chair of Norfolk SACRE, said: "We believe the emphasis should be on quality."

The law states that schools must hold daily acts of worship "of a broadly Christian character". Earlier this year the Government reiterated its refusal to alter the law, despite findings by the Office for Standards in Education that only 60 per cent of secondary schools obeyed it.

A survey by the National Association of Head Teachers last year found that eight out 10 heads were unable to guarantee this would happen in their schools.

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