Festive without so much nativity

17th December 2004 at 00:00
Schools are increasingly celebrating Christmas in non-Christian ways, report Graeme Paton and Karen Thornton

A quarter of schools in Wales and England will not be holding a Christmas carol service this year, a TES poll has revealed. A sixth of primaries will not be staging a nativity play and half of all schools will host non-religious celebrations.

The overall findings will be seen as an erosion of traditional Christian attitudes towards Christmas in schools in favour of a multi-faith approach.

And it mirrors a fall in daily collective worship in schools and declining church attendances across the UK.

But, despite the decline in traditional Christmas celebrations, religious faith among the teaching profession remains high - especially in Wales.

According to the MORI survey of almost 800 teachers, two-thirds (62 per cent) say they believe in God - rising to 77 per cent of Welsh teachers surveyed. That compares to the 60 per cent of the general public who said they were believers, according to a similar poll carried out for the BBC in 2003.

The Welsh sample is small (47) and so may not be representative. But it indicates that Welsh teachers may be more likely to believe in God, heaven and hell, life after death, reincarnation, and particularly that Jesus was the son of God (74 to 53 per cent) and rose from the dead (61 to 45 per cent) than English colleagues.

According to today's poll, faith is stronger among primary school teachers, with 70 per cent saying they believed in God. In the secondary sector just over half (54 per cent) are believers. A gender split also emerges, with 66 per cent of women believing in God compared to 55 per cent of men, which may explain the relative devoutness of those teaching in primaries.

At Ysgol Gwaenynog, an infant school in Denbigh, Christianity is the prominent faith but is taught alongside Islam, Judaism and Hinduism.

Head Julia Buckley Jones said: "If you look at the Welsh as a nation, they are more religious and have a richer tradition of non-conformity and Sunday school. We are a nation that has perhaps embraced Christianity more."

Peter Williams, St Asaph's diocesan director of education for the Church in Wales, said: "There are more Christians in teaching than you would expect.

A lot of people looking for an outlet for their belief see teaching as a route."

While teachers on the whole believe in God, they are more sceptical about the afterlife. Only 45 per cent believe in life after death and 18 per cent believe in reincarnation. Half the teachers surveyed say heaven exists and 28 per cent said there was a hell. Tellingly, more secondary school teachers said hell was a real place.

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

Reflecting a shift towards a more inclusive approach to worship and RE, 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.

leader 14, opinion 15

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