The Department for Education has withdrawn its official guidance on the provision of Collective Worship in schools, called Circular 1/94, enabling local authorities and schools in England to choose whether or not to use it.
The Coalition Government revealed its new position recently to the National Association of Standing Advisory Councils for Religious Education (NASACRE) and the Association of Religious Education Inspectors, Advisers and Consultants (AREIAC).
The news has now prompted the two groups to advise in a joint statement that schools do not use the controversial guidance.
Although schools have to adhere to same laws around Collective Worship as before, NASACRE and AREIAC believe that the law can be read in a way that allow assemblies to be less confessional and so narrowly focused on Christian teaching, as Circular 1/94 sets out.
Both groups argue that Circular 1/94 has acted as a barrier to better school assemblies with a wider remit, and they are instead now urging local authorities and schools to pursue a more inclusive and educational approach.
The chair of the Accord Coalition for inclusive education, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain commented: "The green light offered by Government, enabling schools and local authorities to dispense from the repressive Circular 1/94, is an important moment, and the move, along with the more inclusive and educational approach advocated by NASACRE and AREIAC, is to be welcomed."
"However," he continued, "the continuing legal requirement that schools provide daily worship of a 'wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character' still prevent schools from providing an inspiring programme of assemblies that are truly respectful and genuinely inclusive of all staff and children. As society does not have a single shared faith we cannot worship together compulsorily."
Rabbi Romain continued: "State funded schools are still free to provide the kind of narrow and instructional assemblies that is now widely held to be inappropriate. While the latest advice is a positive step, the legal regime around Collective Worship needs urgent reform, while the narrow and repressive Circular 1/94 in England and Circular 10/94 in Wales should be taken out of circulation altogether."
"Assemblies at their best can be an enormously important part of the school day - creating a sense of unity and communicating shared values - so the more they are used for this, and the less they are hijacked for doctrinal purposes, the better. [Worship] should be done voluntarily in a church, mosque or synagogue, and not be one particular faith forced midweek on children of different beliefs or no belief."
A July 2010 YouGov poll commissioned by the Accord Coalition found that 43 per cent of GB adults agreed (to 30 per cent against) that the laws that require schools to provide daily collective worship, including in faith schools, should be replaced by a requirement that they hold assemblies which consider spiritual, moral and ethical issues shared by different religions and by those who are not religious.
The ‘Worship in School Study’ for the BBC by ComRes in July 2011 suggested that only 28 per cent of children took part in a daily act of collective worship at their school, while 60 per cent of adults (to 36 per cent) thought the Collective Worship laws should not be enforced.
Ekklesia is a founding member of the Accord Coalition for inclusive education (http://accordcoalition.org.uk/), which brings a range of religious and non-religious organisations together to seek the reform of faith schools based on principles of non-discrimination and openness.
* The latest guidance on Collective Worship for schools produced by NASACRE and AREIAC (*.PDF Adobe Acrobat document): http://www.nasacre.org.uk/downloads/CollWorRevisit.pdf.
* YouGov poll for Accord: http://accordcoalition.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Accord-Coalitio...
* 'Worship in School' study (*.PDF Adobe Acrobat document): http://www.comres.co.uk/polls/BBC_Religion_Worship_in_schools_results_(plus_regions)_July11.pdf