Silent nights as carols are axed by schools

A quarter of schools in England and Wales will not be holding a Christmas carol service this year, a TES poll has revealed.

One in seven primaries will not stage a nativity play and half of all schools will host non-religious celebrations. The findings will add to growing fears over the erosion of traditional Christian attitudes towards Christmas. The Sun newspaper has launched a campaign to save Christmas from the hands of the so-called "PC brigade", a view supported by members of the Association of Christian Teachers.

Chris Alloway, a London ACT representative, said: "Increasingly we are celebrating all other world religions, making sure we are not offending anyone, but then not acknowledging our own - even at Christmas. Christmas in our schools is just being eroded away."

But headteachers insisted this week that schools had to cater for all faiths. Ros Taylor, head of Nottingham's Middleton primary, which has 440 children from 26 different nationalities, said: "We don't have a carol service and have not had one for a very long time. This is a very mixed community and we must have a curriculum which reflects that."

But despite this decline, out of almost 800 teachers, two-thirds (62 per cent) told MORI that they believe in God. This is slightly higher than in the nation as a whole as 60 per cent of the public described themselves as believers in a similar poll carried out for the BBC in 2003.

According to today's poll, faith is stronger among primary teachers - 70 per cent said that they believed in God. In secondaries just over half (54 per cent) described themselves as believers. A gender split also emerges in today's poll - 65 per cent of women teachers said that they believe in God compared to 55 per cent of men, figures which help to explain the relative holiness of primary teachers.

Caroline Williams, a Year 2 teacher at All Saints CofE primary in south-east London, said: "My faith is central to everything I do. There was a punch-up in the school playground and I told the children this is not what Jesus would have done."

But teachers are more sceptical about the afterlife. Only 45 per cent believe in life after death and 18 per cent believe in reincarnation. Half those surveyed said heaven exists and 28 per cent said there was a hell.

More secondary teachers thought of hell as a real place.

When asked if their school would be holding a carol service this year, 74 per cent said yes and 23 per cent said no. Traditional Christmas nativity plays would be staged in 83 per cent of primaries, according to the survey, but in only 6 per cent of secondaries.

Reflecting a shift to a more inclusive approach to worship and religious education, 50 per cent of teachers said their schools would also be hosting a non-religious or secular celebration and 28 per cent said some form of multi-faith celebration was being staged.

The findings come just weeks after the launch of government RE guidelines recommending that secular views and minority world faiths are taught alongside mainstream religions.

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