Row over rising numbers at church school services

Secular Society says schools and church are 'working in cahoots' to coerce pupils into worship

John Roberts

Figures show an increase in pupils attending church school services

Secular campaigners have said a “rapid rise” in the number of children being taken to Church of England school services should prompt “a separation of church and school”.

Concerns have been raised about the Church of England’s Statistics for Mission figures which show that the average weekly attendance at church school services grew by 56 per cent between 2013 and 2017.

The National Secular Society (NSS) has accused the Church of attempting to coerce pupils into participating in worship.

However, the Church of England has said the increase was welcomed and included events such as harvest festivals, carol services and leavers events for pupils.

In October 2017, 197,000 people attended the services, compared to 126,000 in October 2013. Over 2,600 churches reported attendance at services for schools in church in October 2017.

The figures also reveal that the churches play a role in leading worship in schools.

Almost half (46 per cent) of churches surveyed reported that a member of their ministry team led an act of worship in schools once a month or more during 2017.

NSS chief executive Stephen Evans said: “It’s clear that churches and faith schools are working in cahoots to coerce pupils into participation in worship.

"These publicly funded schools are not homogenous worshipping communities; forcing Anglican services into the school day is completely inappropriate.

“These figures not only demonstrate the need to separate church and state, they also highlight the need to separate church and school.”

The Church of England’s chief education officer, Nigel Genders said: “We are delighted to see that that the number of children and young people attending services for schools has shown an increase over the four years that we have been collecting this data.

“Church of England schools exist for the benefit of the whole community, and are committed to the spiritual development and religious literacy of all children.

“Schools of all types, not just Church of England, attend their local church or cathedral throughout the year for special services such as Harvest Festival, carol services, or leavers’ events at the end of the academic year. These occasions are enormously valued by the schools and parents involved.

“Most recently schools took a key part in contributing to our national acts of remembrance, where churches were naturally a focal point.”

The NSS said the statistics also show that Church of England attendance has fallen significantly since 2007.

Adult average Sunday attendance has fallen by 15 per cent, child average Sunday attendance by 24 per cent and adult average weekly attendance by 12 per cent.

The school service attendance figures are not included in the average Sunday or weekly attendance figures.

Mr Evans said that the expansion of church school services was “particularly unjustifiable” in the context of declining church attendance.



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John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

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