Collective worship is fit for the scrapheap
Former UK Education Secretary Charles Clarke, above, has called for the abolition of collective worship in schools.
A study he has co-authored with Linda Woodhead, professor of sociology of religion at Lancaster University, argues that the requirement has failed to keep up with changes in attitudes to religion since it was introduced in the 1940s.
Clarke says it can no longer be enforced – but calls for the compulsory teaching of religious literacy.
The study says there needs to be a “new settlement” in the relationship between religion and schools, arguing that the obligation for a compulsory act of worship is often not really fulfilled.
However, there is a “nod and wink culture” about not admitting this.
The report, published as part of the Westminster Faith Debates about religion and values, says that schools should be allowed to make their own decisions about how to hold such a morning assembly and what should be included.
Clarke says that even though many heads have not wanted to carry out such an act of worship there has been a political reluctance to grasp the nettle.
The reason there has been no change in 70 years is that politicians have been very wary of dipping their toes in this debate.
But the report argues that there should be a stronger and more relevant form of religious education in schools, which should be compulsory for all schools and include non-religious beliefs, such as humanism.
These lessons in religious literacy would teach pupils about different faiths and involve visits to different places of worship.
The concerns about radicalisation and fundamentalism meant that this was a very necessary lesson, said Clarke.
It was important to teach about mainstream, moderate interpretations of religion, rather than:
Letting extremists dominate the argument. It is very important to grow up knowing what faith is and what faith is not. Religious questions keep coming up in the news, there needs to be an understanding of it.
The report also looks at the place of faith schools and concludes that the right for parents to send their children to such schools should be protected.
Clarke described this as a “fundamental right” and unlikely to be something that any government would challenge.
Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, welcomed the call for a review of the place of religions and non-religious worldviews in school.
Since the current arrangements were made in the 1940s, he said, society had:
Changed beyond recognition and yet the education system is fossilised.
John Hall, the Anglican dean of Westminster, said:
The place of religion in education is contested but there is no doubt that young people need a far better understanding than they currently have of the powerful motive force that is religious – and non-religious – faith, for good and ill.
And they need to develop spirituality and morality.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said that religious education is:
Vitally important to help children develop the British values of tolerance, respect and understanding for others.
It prepares young people for life in modern Britain and that is why it remains compulsory at all key stages. All locally agreed RE syllabuses must be broad, balanced and reflect the teaching and practices of principal religions.
She said that faith schools were:
An important part of our diverse education system, allowing parents to choose to have their child educated in line with the tenets of a faith.
Meanwhile, Catholic commentator Damien Thompson, writing for the Spectator, laments the fact that Christianity in the UK faces a “catastrophic” future and will be extinct.
It’s often said that Britain’s church congregations are shrinking, but that doesn’t come close to expressing the scale of the disaster now facing Christianity in this country.
Every ten years the census spells out the situation in detail: between 2001 and 2011 the number of Christians born in Britain fell by 5.3 million — about 10,000 a week. If that rate of decline continues, the mission of St Augustine to the English, together with that of the Irish saints to the Scots, will come to an end in 2067.
He blames rampant secularism. Oh, and the BBC.
Yes, the BBC is biased against – and ignorant of – Christianity.