Heaven help (most of) us

17th December 2004 at 00:00
In an increasingly secular world, it seems teachers keep the faith - 70 per cent of primary and more than half of secondary staff believe in God. Graeme Paton reports

Whether the children are five or 15, every teacher probably craves a little divine intervention when it comes to controlling a class of problem pupils.

But it seems that primary staff are more likely to call for help from the man upstairs.

According to a TES survey of religious beliefs, 70 per cent of those teaching the youngest pupils in England and Wales say they believe in God, compared with just over half of secondary teachers.

Primary teachers are also much less likely to object to taking part in collective religious worship in their schools than their secondary colleagues.

Mori surveyed 789 teachers from schools across England and Wales for The TES. The survey revealed that more than two-thirds of teachers said they had an underlying sense of spirituality. While only 54 per cent of secondary teachers said they believed in God, as many as 68 per cent thought they had a soul.

Yet secondary teachers were less likely to ascribe to the central tenets of Christianity and many said they would refuse to take part in collective worship.

While 56 per cent of primary teachers said they believed in heaven, only 45 per cent did in secondary schools. In primary schools 62 per cent of teachers said Jesus was the son of God, 63 per cent believed he was a prophet and 53 per cent said he rose from the dead. But in secondary schools the figures were 46, 52 and 39 per cent respectively.

The relative scepticism about aspects of the Bible story is reflected in attitudes to collective worship.

Almost a quarter of secondary teachers (21 per cent) refuse to take part, or would refuse if such worship were held in their schools. By comparison only 3 per cent of primary teachers share the stance.

Marilyn Mason, education officer for the British Humanist Association, said: "On collective worship, the numbers prepared not to participate seem quite high. After all, it takes a certain amount of courage and determination not to conform to expectations and to risk the annoyance of school managers."

Canon John Hall, head of education at the Church of England, admitted there was a perception among some people that secondary schools have a "more secular feel" than primaries, but he insisted the statistical differences thrown up by the survey were "not massive".

"On the whole this survey reveals that teachers do not have either more or less of a religious attitude than people in society in general," he said.

Primary and secondary schools seem equally split over how to approach Christmas, with older children more likely to take part in non-religious celebrations.

According to the survey, 76 per cent of primary teachers say their schools are planning carol concerts compared with 71 per cent of secondary teachers.

Nativity plays are, unsurprisingly, more likely to take place in primary schools, with 83 per cent of teachers saying they will be staged as opposed to just 6 per cent of secondary teachers. Secondaries are more likely to stage a secular play, 68 per cent said their schools would hold one compared to 50 per cent of primary teachers.

A further 52 per cent of secondary teachers said they would stage a non-religious celebration compared to 47 per cent in primary schools.

SECTION:Home news NO PHYSICAL FILEGlobal event: children from Furness primary, Brent, north-west London, performed a multicultural 'All around the world' nativity play this year.

Most primaries still put on an annual nativity play

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