A new bill proposing to replace compulsory religious worship in English schools with “inclusive assemblies” will be considered in Parliament.
The Education (Assemblies) Bill, if it became law, would mean that schools would no longer be required to provide daily compulsory collective worship, but instead would need to run assemblies that develop the “spiritual, moral, social and cultural education” of all pupils, regardless of religion or belief.
It has been tabled by Baroness Burt, the vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG), with support from Humanists UK.
Humanists UK education campaigns manager Ruth Wareham said the bill would not affect faith schools, which make up around a third of schools in England, but would affect the others, which are mostly Christian by character unless they have a specific "determination".
Compulsory religious worship in schools 'not appropriate'
She said: “The requirement …to carry out daily acts of Christian worship is simply not appropriate for the diverse, multi-belief society that the UK is today.
“It should be replaced with inclusive assemblies that further all children’s spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, regardless of their background. We very much hope this bill will help to make this positive vision a reality.”
Last month, schools minister Nick Gibb said schools not providing collective worship would be investigated by the Department for Education, while Tes revealed that more than half of primary schools in England might be at risk of such an investigation because they do not undertake a daily act of collective worship.
The Church of England’s chief education officer, Nigel Genders, said there was scope for schools to apply for an exemption to the requirement that they provide a daily act of collective worship but said "relatively few, overall, seem to do so".
“That’s perhaps not surprising as schools tell us that, whatever the legal obligations, daily collective worship has proved a powerful tool in bringing pupils together, giving them a rare opportunity to pause and reflect in the midst of a busy day," he said.
“For Church of England schools, that means Christian worship and that will remain the case.
“Around 1 million children attend Church of England schools, which shows that parents and pupils clearly welcome what is on offer.”
The bill is due to have its first reading in the House of Lords on Thursday.