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Proposals to make worship optional in schools rejected by Peers

Peers in the House of Lords have rejected moves to make collective worship in schools optional, rather than compulsory.

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The law in England and Wales states that children at all publicly-funded schools “shall on each school day take part in an act of collective worship”.

One of the amendments would have given community schools the freedom to decide for themselves whether or not to hold acts of religious worship. A second amendment would have given pupils the right to withdraw themselves from worship, where it is conducted by the school. A further amendment would have allowed 15 year old or older pupils to withdraw themselves, building on the NSS success in 2006 in introducing sixth form pupils’ self-withdrawal.

The amendments were moved by NSS Honorary Associate Lord Avebury during Report Stage of the Education Bill. Moving the amendments, Lord Avebury said: “It is time for the long-standing tradition which no longer reflects the beliefs of more than a tiny fraction of the people to be jettisoned”.

Speaking in the Chamber, Lord Avebury set out a formidable list of reasons why requiring schools to conduct a daily act of religious worship is no longer appropriate. Not least of these were numerous references to the high rate of schools’ non-compliance with the law, showing it to be unenforceable and unpopular. Ahead of the debate, copious evidence of this was sent to the Education Minister by the NSS, at the request of the Department for Education. England and Wales are alone among Western democracies in requiring such enforced worship in community schools. The Joint (Parliamentary) Human Rights Committee endorses the proposal to bring down the age of self withdrawal.

Lord Avebury said: “By all means continue the valuable tradition that assembly is a time for considering the moral and ethical values of our civilisation. [...] Let us do that in a way that is itself inclusive and not one that requires children and teachers to participate in behaviour that excludes many of them at the beginning of the school day.”

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TAGGED: CHILDREN, EDUCATION, LAW, RELIGION


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