THE Church of England Education Office has asked the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to amend a recent draft paper that asks the UK Government to repeal legislation that requires pupils in state schools in England and Wales to attend collective worship of a broadly Christian nature. Pupils in all parts of the UK should be able independently to opt out of worship, the draft says.
Collective worship was one of a number of issues — among them child abuse, and the use of sonic “mosquito devices” to break up demonstrations — that were considered by the CRC — a committee of independent experts rather than paid officials. The National Secular Society, a long-standing opponent of religious worship in “publicly funded schools”, is listed in the draft paper as one of the organisations from which it received representations.
Responding to the draft recommendation on collective worship, the C of E’s Chief Education Officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, said that, if enacted, the CRC proposals would result in separation of treatment for children based on the type of school they attended, with different regulations applying to community schools and those with a religious character.
“While we welcome debate on the relevance of collective worship to children and their school communities,” he said, “we want that to be held on knowledge of the full current and historic framework that applies to all publicly funded schools. Our submission to the UN requests that they . . . ensure their report demonstrates a full grasp of the situation in England and Wales. Although it was possible to opt out of collective worship, this rarely happened. Children themselves enjoy this time of day.”
A statement from the Department for Education (DfE) said that the Government had no plans to change the law which allowed schools to tailor collective worship to the needs of pupils, and gave parents the right to withdraw their children should they wish to do so.
The DfE statement went on: “Collective worship encourages pupils to reflect on the concept of belief, and helps shape fundamental British values of tolerance, respect, and understanding for others.”
More C of E free schools THE General Synod is to be asked to back a significant expansion of the Church of England’s stake in the schools system. A paper from the Education Office to be debated tomorrow says that current reforms to the schools system, including the development of free schools, offer the C of E “unprecedented opportunities which should be seized wholeheartedly”.
The paper Church of England Vision for Education, already approved by the College of Bishops, argues that the C of E has a duty to offer its model of a holistic education as widely as possible. It warns: “Standing still is not option; we will either seize the opportunity or our contribution to state education will decline.”
The opportunity for new schools is enhanced by the fast-developing increase in pupil numbers and a government target of 500 new free schools over the course of this parliament. “We aim to ensure that 125 of those are C of E schools,” the Church’s chief education officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, said this week. Work has already begun in the Education Office on identifying areas where new schools will be needed, he added. “We are working with diocesan teams to review their capacities to take up opportunities for free schools and to prioritise between projects.” The overall priority would be to encourage the development of secondary schools, particularly where pupils in C of E primaries had no C of E secondary option.
The C of E has nine free schools open — it is the largest single provider of academies. An Education Office consultant and development officer for London diocese, Rob Hannan, is leading regional “roadshows” for dioceses and C of E schools interested in promoting more free schools. He says that, across the country, applications have already been made for ten more C of E free schools, with proposals for a further 30 at an early stage.