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'Rethink collective worship', says Bishop Pritchard

11 July 2014


THE Church of England'S leading spokesman on education, the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard, this week called for a widespread debate on the legal requirement for collective worship.

Bishop Pritchard, who chairs the Board of Education, entered the debate during a discussion, on Radio 4's Sunday programme, of last week's call by the National Governors' Association (NGA) for the abolition of the 70-year-old legal requirement for all schools to hold a daily act of worship.

To replace worship in assemblies with a time for spiritual reflection was more honest, and more in tune with contemporary culture, the Bishop said.

In a statement this week, he declared that he was not calling for "a knee-jerk change in the law in response to the NGA". It was, however, time for a "common sense" approach, and for "a grown-up conversation" on the issue. It seemed anachronistic in today's culture to require people to worship, which was by definition a voluntary activity.

"My suggestion is that we might reframe 'collective worship' as 'spiritual reflection', drawing mainly on Christian faith, and on the values of other great religious traditions. This would release schools from the guilt that may be associated with flouting the law, and give them the opportunity to enrich this very important experience at the heart of the school day," he said. Parents and teachers appreciated having a pause for reflection in the school day, and were not calling for its suspension.

Later, Bishop Pritchard said that he expected some opposition to his views. "I am prepared to take the flak. What I am suggesting is simply that the term 'spiritual reflection' may be more helpful than 'collective worship'."

Bishop Pritchard's suggestion may be simple, but would almost certainly require a legislative step that government ministers, consistently cautious about interfering in religious matters, would be unlikely to take without the cast-iron assent of all religious interests. After a 1996 report on current practice in collective worship, funded by the All Saints Trust, the issue was thrashed out at three national conferences backed by RE organisations.

It proposed a "way forward" in which schools would hold broad-based assemblies that would encourage spiritual and moral development. The proposal did not make progress because it was rejected at the time by the Church of England.

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