THE place of Christianity in school assemblies was questioned this week after a survey for BBC Local Radio faith programmes suggested that the law requiring schools to provide “broadly Christian” collective worship was being widely ignored. The survey also suggested that 60 per cent of the general public was not in favour of enforcing the law, the BBC says.
The suggestions were based on telephone interviews in July with 1743 adults, 500 of whom were parents of school-age children, by ComRes, a polling organisation. The interviews showed that more than half of those over 65, but only three in ten of the 18-24 age group, favoured enforcement.
The chairman of ComRes, Andrew Hawkins, said that the poll told a story of declining support for Christian worship in schools, with only lukewarm support for the law. “The key question for the future is whether younger people will become more supportive of collective worship as they age, or whether this marks a generational change, and therefore further decline in support over the coming years.”
The pros and cons of the current legislation are to be discussed “in depth” on local-radio faith programmes over the next week, the BBC announced on Tuesday. But the conclusions of the survey have been challenged in a Church of England statement. Most primary schools have collective worship, or a daily time of reflection, it pointed out, but the survey failed to differentiate between parents of primary and secondary school children.
Moreover, collective worship, when pupils of all faiths and none come together to reflect, should not be confused with corporate worship, where everyone was of the same belief. “Collective worship provides an important chance for schools to focus on the spiritual, moral, social, and cultural development of its pupils,” a spokesman said.
Speaking on the Radio 4 Today programme on Tuesday, the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard, chairman of the Church of England’s Board of Education, said: “‘Broadly Christian’ is right. The Office for National Statistics said last year that 71 per cent of the population identified themselves as Christian; so it is right to respond to that in our assemblies.”
Current legislation requiring daily collective worship in schools dates back to the 1944 Education Act. It was amended by the 1988 Education Reform Act, taking account of changed circumstances to require only that worship should be “broadly Christian”. Schools where most pupils come from other faiths can ask for a local “determination”, which excuses them from this Christian requirement.
The chairman of the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC), John Keast, said that the REC carried out a review of collective worship in 1998. Its findings were reported to the Government, but no action was taken. The REC had plans to debate the issues around collective worship again in the near future, and hoped to be able to be in a position to discuss these with the Government and others, Mr Keast said.