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
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
"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.