Children in state-funded schools without a religious character in England and Wales might soon be free to skip compulsory collective worship in school assemblies.
The Education (Assemblies) Bill is seeking to remove compulsory collective worship to replace it with “inclusive assemblies” giving the space to teacher to organise voluntary acts of collective worship.
During its second reading in the House of Lords, Liberal Democrat Baroness Burt of Solihull, who tabled the Bill, said its removal would bring “all children together in a community to reflect on matters that affect them – and us all.”
“I have no bone to pick with the Church of England, and I know that many people of faith agree with my position. Some 60% of parents, many of whom are Christian themselves, think the law on collective worship should not be enforced.
“With this Bill we have an opportunity to help all children, regardless of their background, to feel included and welcomed in the community of their school. It could mark an important turning point for inclusive education.”
The Bill would not apply to faith schools.
The vast majority of the peers contributing to the debate spoke in favour of the Bill, including former Bishop of Oxford, Right Reverend Lord Harries of Pentregarth who said that he supports the Bill “because Christianity is fundamentally committed to free choice.”
“I support the Bill for three reasons: the present situation simply does not reflect where we are as a society, it brings the present law into disrepute and it does a disservice to the Christian faith itself, which ought to be able to shine in its own light, as I believe it does.”
But the current Bishop of Oxford, Right Rev Steven Croft said he fears replacing collective worship with a “secular assembly” would allow children to “grow up in ignorance of the possibilities and depth of the faith traditions.”
“The effect of the Bill may be to replace a tolerant, humane and hospitable Christian faith as the main strand of worship in our schools, combined with other faith traditions, with a largely manufactured cluster of ideas with few roots in our stories or culture and varying enormously from school to school. I do not think that the majority of the nation’s children and young people should be denied the experience of spiritual, moral, social and cultural development connected to a living tradition, which research shows they value.”
Speaking for the government, Conservative frontbencher Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen said the Government believes “there is no need to amend the current legislation on collective worship”.
“Collective worship is already flexible and inclusive in nature. We trust that our schools will strive to further the spiritual, social, moral and cultural education of all their pupils, without this impacting on their legal duty to provide daily acts of worship.”
The Bill will undergo further scrutiny at a later date as it received an unopposed second reading. To become law, it will need government support.