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Couple who withdrew children from school assemblies drop Judicial Review

22 November 2019

Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust has, without accepting liability, made out-of-court agreement with the parents

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A COUPLE who withdrew their children from assemblies at Burford Primary School, in Oxfordshire, because they included acts of Christian worship, have withdrawn their application for Judicial Review.

A statement on Tuesday from the Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust (ODST), which runs the school, confirmed that the Trust had, without accepting liability, made out-of-court agreement “to ensure we safeguard public funds for the education of children and avoid a potentially expensive court case. Costs incurred in reaching this settlement will be not be met from Burford Primary School’s budget.

“We have agreed some specific arrangements for the claimants’ children when they are withdrawn from collective worship and are able to provide some appropriate resources for them. Burford Primary is a small, happy and successful school, which will continue to provide collective worship, alongside a broad, balanced and inclusive curriculum.”

A subsequent press release from Humanists UK, however, suggested that the Trust had agreed to provide a “meaningful alternative assembly of equal educational worth for all pupils withdrawn from compulsory prayers”, and would “no longer hold its school leavers’ ceremony in church or gift bibles to all children”.

It included comments from the parents, Lee and Lizanne Harris, who said: “We are delighted that the school . . . agreed to provide our children with an alternative, inclusive assembly of equal educational worth. . . The defendant’s reluctance to take this to trial in our view shows the growing fragility of this outdated law and those who choose to enforce it.”

The chief executive of the Trust, Anne Dellar, said that this was not the case. “At a time when school funds are stretched, ODST took the pragmatic decision to avoid wholly unnecessary court costs.

“A short-term child-specific arrangement has been agreed between ODST and the parents of two children attending Burford Primary School. The arrangement will lapse when the youngest of the two children leave the school.

“Burford Primary School is not offering an alternative assembly; rather, a small number of children who are withdrawn from collective worship will be able to access alternative materials, overseen by a teacher. . . While recognising every parent’s right to withdraw their child from collective worship, we are saddened that this case has diverted valuable funds and staff time.”

Bibles used to be gifted by the local church to leaving pupils, but this has not been the case since 2017. Leaving celebrations were last held in the church in 2018, because the school hall was too small.

The Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, commented: “The Church of England has always worked to enable the best education for all children, motivated by our deep Christian values and recognising the changing, diverse society we serve. We will continue to do so.”

The school said in a statement: “We are satisfied that the Judicial Review application has been withdrawn.”

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